Last week, the state Senate Education Committee voted 4-2 to reject a bill that would have prevented schools from punishing and embarrassing students with outstanding lunch debts. The bill would have prohibited the public identification of such students and relieved them of extra chores or exclusion from any school privileges for unpaid lunch debt, including what has become the customary practice of providing those students with an “alternative” lunch—typically, a cheese sandwich in a brown paper bag.
The House had approved this bill 71-28 on April 4. The bill would have allowed the state to enforce for payment of lunch debts from parents through income tax or the Louisiana Department of Revenue collection. It would have applied to students who pay full price for school breakfast and lunch, not those receiving free or reduced-cost meals.
By the way, do you know how poor parents have to be for their children to qualify for free or reduced lunch? We’re talking poverty line here. According to federal guidelines for 2017-2018, a family of four has to earn less than $24,600 annually for the children in that family to qualify for free lunch.
We are sitting here, talking, thinking and trying really hard to figure out why four grown people—alleged leaders—didn’t see fit to send this bill out of committee and on to the senate floor. Cringing as we imagine how the full senate would have voted on the bill even if it had made it out of committee considering the vote there.
Yeah, we got nothing.
Look, it’s not that we don’t think that the parents of public school students that can actually afford to pay for school lunch shouldn’t. But as we understand it, some of these school lunches cost as much as $1.75 a day—a little less than $9 a week or $36 a month. So if a parent forgets to load their kid’s account or really can’t afford it (we did mention that family of four has to earn less than $24,600 annually for the children in that family to qualify for free lunch), a child can be shamed at school over an empty lunch account.
Billions—literally billions of dollars—every year this state throws away in corporate welfare under the guise of tax credits and the like for big business.
But the state Senate Education Committee plays hardball with school lunch balances. And shame on them for that.