An elementary school principal in Chicago stirred up a big flap recently when she prohibited students from bringing their own lunch from home. She said her intention was to protect students from their own poor nutritional choices and have them eat the lunch served in the school cafeteria which, she claimed, is more nutritious. She said the no-sack-lunch policy is common in Chicago. The decision is up to the principal.
Is this decision an overreaching of the nanny state? Or is it the result of big-government financial incentives to promote, or even require, kids to eat the lunches provided by the school? The federal government pays the school district a set fee for each free or reduced-price lunch that a student takes. State governments contribute matching funds. There are other financial incentives for a school to increase the number of students who receive school lunches. The percentage of kids who take them is used to establish how many low-income students attend a school, and that number determines how much Title I funding a school gets from the federal government.
Several agencies provide help to schools to devise ways to maximize the number of students who receive free and reduced-price lunches. and how to conduct a campaign to collect meal applications from the students. One suggestion is to offer prizes to schools or classrooms with high application return rates. On a typical school day, 20 million children (that's 63% of all kinds in public school) receive free or reduced-price lunches. The National School Lunch Program cost taxpayers $9.7 billion last year. The big question is, would these kids go hungry without this program, or are there perverse incentives in place that reward schools for signing up as many kids as possible for the handouts?
Listen to the radio commentary here: