Georgia Congressman: Kids Who Get Subsidized School Lunches Should Be Forced To Work
Congressman Jack Kingston, who is currently running for the GOP Nomination to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Saxby Chambliss, suggests that students receiving free or subsidized school lunches should be required to perform janitorial work in the school in exchange for the benefit they receive:
WASHINGTON — Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) wants kids to learn early in life that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. To make sure they absorb that lesson, he’s proposing that low-income children do some manual labor in exchange for their subsidized meals.
On Saturday, Kingston, who is vying to be his party’s nominee in Georgia’s Senate race next year, spoke at a meeting of the Jackson County Republican Party about thefederal school lunch program.
Under that program, children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty line are eligible for free meals. Students from families with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level can receive lunches at reduced prices.
But on Saturday, Kingston came out against free lunches, saying that children should have to pay at least a nominal amount or do some work like sweeping cafeteria floors.
“But one of the things I’ve talked to the secretary of agriculture about: Why don’t you have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch? Or maybe sweep the floor of the cafeteria — and yes, I understand that that would be an administrative problem, and I understand that it would probably lose you money. But think what we would gain as a society in getting people — getting the myth out of their head that there is such a thing as a free lunch,” he said.
The school lunch program, and in many districts a companion program that provides subsidized/free breakfast for children of parents who qualify, has of course been around for decades now. Indeed I remember it from the days when I was in Elementary School in the early 1970s. Back then at least, it quickly became common knowledge which students were part of the program and which ones weren’t based on the way that we “paid” for lunch if you weren’t brown-bagging, or the in case of Elementary School more likely “Lunch Boxing,” it. As I recall at the time, students who were part of the program were often the subject of the kind of teasing that kids that age are very adept at doing. Not having children, I’m not sure if it’s quite as easy for students to figure out who the subsidized/free lunch kids are anymore, but if it is I’m sure the teasing and, in some cases ostracism, still takes place. As the author of the HuffPo piece quoted above notes, Kingston’s proposal is only likely to make this worse:
Besides the “administrative problem,” Kingston’s plan could create significant embarrassment for low-income children, who would be sweeping cafeteria floors while their wealthier peers did normal kid activities. And while the low-income children would supposedly be learning the lesson of hard work, their wealthier peers would simply be getting a free lunch from their parents.
Kingston, of course, doesn’t see it that way:
Asked for additional comment on the congressman’s remarks, Kingston spokesman Chris Crawford replied, “It is sad that trying to have a productive conversation about instilling a strong work ethic in the next generation of Americans so quickly devolves into the usual name-calling partisan hysteria. Having worked from a young age himself, Congressman Kingston understands the value of hard work and the important role it plays in shaping young people.”
Kingston isn’t the first politician with ties to Georgia to suggest that poor kids should be put to work in the schools as some kind of Apprentice Janitor Corps. As you may recall, back near the end of 2011 Newt Gingrich who was then, quite improbably, surging to the top of the 2012 GOP Presidential field (for at least of a few weeks), said that poor students should be put to work as janitors in public schools to apparently teach them the value of a dollar. As I noted at the time, the idea of getting teenagers at least, especially ones in poor communities, to have the opportunity to learn the value of hard work and other values that they may not be exposed to at home for various reasons is not necessarily a bad idea. However, going from that idea to the idea of turning kids into school janitors or something like that would seem to serve no useful purpose at all, except perhaps saving the school districts money since they wouldn’t need to hire so many janitors.
Kingston’s idea strikes me as being even dumber than Gingrich’s. The national school lunch program, which sees its modern roots in a bill signed into law by Harry Truman in 1946 and actually has its roots in programs started in America’s major cities as early as the late 19th Century. From the beginning, the purpose of the program was to ensure that children had access to at least one healthy, nutritious meal a day. The program arguably has an educational component in that kids who are malnourished are less likely to perform well in school, as several studies have shown over the years. Over the years the program was expanded to concentrate on both the health aspects of school lunches in schools that receive Federal Aid and to provide subsidies to cover the cost of lunch (and, as I noted, at some point breakfast as well) for students from families who meet certain income levels. It’s those students who Kingston proposes to single out and put to work. In other words, he wants to punish the children of poor parents because they qualify for free or low-cost school lunches.
I have to wonder two things about this proposal. First of all, what, exactly, is it that Kingston thinks this will teach these kids? That it’s okay to force them to do work on top o their school work because their parents are poor, something the children themselves are not responsible for? Second, exactly how dense do you have to be to see how cold and heartless this actually sounds to the average human being? I happen to agree that there’s something seriously corrosive about the culture of dependency that many of our welfare assistance programs help create, but I fail to see how singling out the children is going to solve any of them. Swing and miss Congressman, swing and miss.