Originally created 11/30/00

No free breakfasts 113000 - The Augusta Chronicle



Children tend to do better in school if they've eaten breakfast, but many of them don't, so doesn't it make sense for schools to serve it? Sure, and for poor kids, they do.

But now U.S. Department of Agriculture bureaucrats seek to expand the free breakfast program to all kids, at least in elementary schools, regardless of family income.

So for the next three years, the USDA will spend up to $10 million conducting the universal free breakfast pilot program in six school districts across the country.

If students do better in their early years of education, the agency will wave the results in Congress' face to get the program fully and permanently funded for all U.S. public elementary schools - at a cost of untold billions to federal taxpayers. And even that will just be a start, because eventually pressure will build to expand free breakfasts to middle and high schools as well.

This is precisely how large, expensive federal social schemes get started. An idea sounds appealing. Raise students' academic performance by feeding them a free breakfast. The USDA builds grass roots support by asking local school teachers and principals to send in testimonials, as North Aiken Elementary School has done. They suggest that free breakfasts for both the poor and the privileged helps improve test grades and curbs disruptive conduct.

Why make the program universal for all income groups? Because, say school food service workers (who have a lot to gain in their industry if the program's enacted), many poor kids who qualify for free or reduced meals feel stigmatized if they sign up for them.

But that's nonsense. Experience in our area shows there's no sense of shame in accepting free meals. Four years ago Richmond and Burke counties' school systems were scandalized when scores of wealthy doctors', lawyers' and business people's youngsters were included in free and reduced meal programs. Indeed, schools try to sign up as many kids as they can in order to qualify for the federal funds.

We editorialized in 1996 that the federally sponsored free lunch program was being abused, corrupting families, schools and communities - the fundamental grass-roots institutions that are supposed to infuse our young with values and morals.

The free breakfast program is simply more of the same. Agriculture bureaucrats claim higher income families seldom have time to feed their children breakfast. That's like saying they don't have time to be good parents.

Parents' fundamental job is to feed their children. Turning it over to the schools is a shameless abdication of parental responsibility; indeed, it actually encourages such irresponsibility. Who needs parents anyway? Just let schools take care of kids full time.