While critics point to a variety of inefficiencies and problems within the public school system, few direct their gaze to a set of programs that fall outside the role of education: providing food to children. While offering essential services to children on campus all day is not at all problematic, the government today plays an active role in providing these services for free to those who qualify.
The Utah State Office of Education runs a variety of “Child Nutrition Programs” which are as follows:
- After School Snack Program (provides food to children enrolled in after school activities)
- Child and Adult Care Food Program (pays for food and other aid to eligible child care centers, family and group day care homes, adult day care centers, and outside-school-hours care programs)
- Family Day Care Homes program (funds meals to children 12 and under in day care homes)
- Food Distribution Program (purchases food in bulk to be stored and transported to schools)
- Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (provides free fruit and vegetables to all enrolled students in participating schools throughout the school day)
- National School Breakfast Program (provides free or reduced-fee breakfast to qualifying students)
- National School Lunch Program (provides free or reduced-fee lunch to qualifying students)
- Special Milk Program (provides milk to children who do not participate in other child nutrition programs)
- Summer Food Service Program (offers free breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner to children during summer vacations, interim, and off-track periods)
The bulk of funding for these programs comes from the federal government. In Fiscal Year 2012, the state received $141 million in funding from a variety of federal programs to offer these programs to school children. State revenue directed towards the programs in the same year amounted to over $32 million, or 18.5% of the total.
99.5% of that state funding came from the sale of wine and liquor within the state. By law, 10% of the gross sales from liquor stores in the state (which are owned, managed, and regulated by the government) are transferred to the school lunch program.
What this effectively means is that alcohol sales fund free food for children in the state. Perhaps those in the education industry are happy to take whatever funding they can get, but an outside observer is compelled to objectively analyze the funding relationship and wonder whether it is appropriate.
Given the state’s illegitimate involvement in the alcohol industry, it at least makes sense to funnel funds back into the same enterprise; profit could sensibly used to cover the cost to maintain facilities, employ staff, and cover other governmental services specifically related to alcohol consumption, such as DUI enforcement.
What makes much less sense is providing warm meals to children in need because somebody else wanted to drink vodka. This is a redistribution of wealth, and an awkward one—especially in a state where many policy makers frown upon alcohol and, in theory (but very rarely in practice), object to socialism.
37.3% of children provided meals at school receive them for free or at reduced cost. Out of 589,342 participating children, 369,342 of them paid. Plenty of families can afford the meals and prefer the convenience over packing lunches. Obviously, this is not true for all.
What, then, is the proper method of providing services to those in need? Should an unrelated group of people be taxed to cover costs? Or can something more appropriate be done?
Ultimately, this form of welfare is a counterfeit version of charity. Instead of imposing the financial burden upon an ignorant third party, children and their parents should be encouraged to assist their peers, with whom they have direct contact, and where existing relationships can be strengthened through actual charity. Parents can be informed about the need, and those able to do so can pay for their child’s meal as well as another’s.
Additionally, meal fees could be incrementally raised across the board in order to generate extra revenue to provide free or reduced cost meals to those in need. While still technically a tax, it is far superior to imposing the financial burden upon an unrelated group of individuals. In this situation, those voluntarily participating in the meal services provided by the school would know that they are helping provide the same service to others in need.
It is clear that meal services are needed, but the status quo relies upon a funding relationship that should not exist. A government that protects life, liberty, and property must not exceeds its bounds to redistribute wealth and care for the needy, since doing so would violate the basic protections for which it exists in the first place. Instead, individuals should be encouraged to fulfill their personal responsibility to provide for themselves and take care of those within their sphere of influence.