This is National School Lunch Week, a recognition that’s been popping upon in October for awhile.
Coincidentally (wink, wink), the timing is in sync with preparations for school-enrollment audits, the headcounting effort that determines how much money individual school districts will receive from local, state and federal governments.
All funds matter, right?
Black, white, Asian-Pacific Islander, Native American and Hispanic. English as a second language. Poor and underprivileged. Military. Special needs. Rural, suburban and urban. Inner city (whatever in hell that means). Property taxes. ZIP codes.
All of the above impact aid to schools, including which students are eligible for free and reduced lunches and which are not.
The problem with school lunch programs, however, is not funding. The problem is the food and lack of accountability.
Kids aren’t eating the food, and the bureaucrats overseeing feeding programs are minding either the food or the piggy banks. And as long as piggybanks continue to fill up with mostly federal funds, elected officials will continue to hire bureaucrats who keep eyeballing what goes in the piggybanks while ignoring what goes out.
Prime example: An Oct. 7 report by D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson says that millions of dollars in savings projected in the city’s school lunch program went poof! — though not because of theft. It disappeared because officials improperly handled management services.
Suffice it to say, the federal government gives D.C. Public Schools $3.15 for each lunch, but DCPS pays its contractor between $4.16 and $4.24 for each meal. That cost D.C. taxpayers and other stakeholders an additional $9 million last year, according to Mrs. Patterson’s calculations.
Another piggy bank is irreparably busted.
Not only that, but there’s the garbage in, garbage out factor. Here again, the kids weren’t eating the food because they didn’t like it. So they tossed it in the garbage.
In education circles that’s commonly called “plate waste.” Outside of schoolhouses, it’s simply called waste — a waste of food and a waste of dollars.
What’s more is the auditor also cited food spoilage. Yucky.
Now, let’s be real. Did school officials need the auditor to reveal as much?
Not at all, if the faculty had eyeballed kids’ eating habits and reported them to bureaucrats.
Not at all, if bureaucrats had eyeballed kids during lunchtime.
What’s in store, now that the auditor has become a whistleblower, is the mother of all school cafeteria fights: The auditor has proposed food services to return to an in-house program. Meanwhile, the bureaucrats are saying “No, we got this.”
The politics of it all means the kids still won’t eat the “free” food, and neither the bureaucrats nor the elected officials will have the kids’ best interests in mind.
The school lunch program had noble beginnings 70 years ago during the Truman administration. These days it’s not worth the laptops it’s concocted on.
And you know why? There’s no accountability.
Parents and other hometown taxpayers do not determine how much money is spent on school feeding programs. What’s in those school lunches?
And, by the way, when was the last time you saw a cluster of federal, state or local bureaucrats in your child’s school cafeteria? Unannounced?
• Deborah Simmons can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.