Commentary

School buses deliver free lunch to wealthy kids – what’s up with that?

By John Klar

When schools closed in Vermont, lunches were provided to students across the state — often by buses that delivered food instead of picking up children.  The rationale was that some students depended on school meals for nutritional needs: as the Department of Health and Agency of Education justified: “….the ongoing economic impacts of COVID-19 may mean that many more children are currently facing food insecurity at home.” (p. 31).  But this effort has been costly and inequitable — both financially and environmentally.

Overspending, inefficiencies, and unequal distribution of COVID funds are themselves “ongoing economic impacts” that will ensure food insecurity persists for our children. Part of the 35% COVID-fueled increase in the national debt has been caused by a floodgate of benefits created with borrowed funds.  “Normal” filters against fiscal abuse were set aside when COVID struck, using the “food insecurity” mantra.

Huge waste has resulted, as seen in Vermont:

— School buses were used to deliver meals.  This was profoundly uneconomical, in both monetary and ecological terms.  Meals could have been delivered with light trucks or vans at about 17.5 MPG, instead of diesel-engined buses.

According to U.S. EPA, diesel exhaust from school buses contains pollutants that contribute to ozone formation, acid rain and global climate change. In addition, the fine particulate matter from diesel engines can cause lung damage, especially in children, and contributes to haze…. Buses are the safest way to get children to school, but they’re also fuel hogs that get only 4 to 6 miles per gallon.

— Eligibility requirements for meal assistance were abandoned. Meals have been provided at public expense to families with ample financial means to avert “food insecurity.”  This is grossly inequitable, but not one word of criticism has been heard.

The emotional appeal of “feed the children” again eclipses critical thought.  The same government that seeks to mandate electric school buses to avert climate change, dispatched a fleet of diesel-fueled school buses to deliver lunches!  Was that in the best interests of children?  Employing the National Guard’s tanks would have been comparably efficient….

This is not an issue of whether to feed children, but whether to feed them fairly.  Not about whether to use government to feed poor kids, but whether to use it to feed filthy rich ones.  Or perhaps about why citizens would entrust their financial future to any entity that used school buses to deliver meals — no business would even contemplate such absurd “policy.” – John Klar

Will Vermont deliver meals by school bus on weekends?  (Why not? Some children may have food security, after all.)  Babysitters and therapists?  Vermont has moved to expand state subsidization of pre-school, and as of last week, daycare.  The daycare bill provides subsidies for those who earn 200% of the federal poverty guidelines: but there is no provision for funding: indeed, the laws are being proposed before anyone even knows what it will cost!

It is not heartless to ask how public services are to be efficiently and fairly provided — it is heartless not to — especially toward the children whose welfare is invoked to plunge their future economy into spiraling debt.  Regressive taxation hurts the poor, but Vermont’s progressive elites remain oblivious to math.

Vermont families with million-dollar incomes did not require free lunches during COVID.  Tracking eligibility would have been easy enough — tracking COVID was new, but income eligibility was already in place for federal meal programs.  Vermont’s busing guidelines said nothing of monitoring eligibility, though later the federal government created a nationwide waiver — there was never any effort to distribute these public services based on economic need.

Initially the feds said they were maintaining equity requirements:

USDA has clarified that students who do not live in area-eligible areas may only receive delivery of meals if they qualify for free and reduced meals. ….Some Vermont SFAs have planned to conduct delivery routes from area-eligible sites throughout their districts, to include either households or bus stops in non-area eligible locations. The new guidance from USDA is clear that when delivering to households in non-area eligible locations, only meals delivered to households who qualify for free and reduced meals may be claimed for reimbursement.

Nevertheless, recommended procedures to collect names were not implemented. On March 29, a national waiver was implemented:

The waiver requires that the State agency must have a plan for ensuring that new meal sites are targeting benefits to children in need, for example, children who may be newly eligible for benefits due to the economic impacts of COVID-19…. The following is the state’s plan for ensuring that new meal sites utilizing the waiver are targeted to benefit children in need.

(Though it is inscrutable how that is now achieved…. if at all).

This is not an issue of whether to feed children, but whether to feed them fairly.  Not about whether to use government to feed poor kids, but whether to use it to feed filthy rich ones.  Or perhaps about why citizens would entrust their financial future to any entity that used school buses to deliver meals — no business would even contemplate such absurd “policy.”

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6 replies »

  1. This is a really good article. We do need accountability and need our leaders to consider unintended consequences of unresearched and feel good policies.

  2. To be fair, here in Starksboro,a community that has many low income families, the school bus that came by in the Spring to deliver meals was a small school bus. It did not stop by individual homes. It came to a central drop off point where families would meet the bus. And during the Summer, meals were provided at the school for pickup, and also brought by volunteers in their own personal vehicles to common pickup points such as mobile home parks. Of course things could be done better. They always can. However, I have to believe that whether we are on the right or the left, making sure everyone has food, can be agreed upon.

  3. I’m relatively well off, but I send my child to public school. When COVID hit, I chose to receive the “free” lunch because I felt it was the lesser harm. If everyone who could do so rejected the school lunch, what would be the outcome? Articles like this would lament that we’re paying the transportation and lunch staff to do nothing, or maybe we’d just fire them and then have to hire new people when the restrictions ended.
    I saw it as nice gesture of solidarity to keep the machinery from falling into desuetude. Given how comparatively-quickly the Vermont schools got their acts together to continue service for the good of everyone, I’d wager it was possibly also the more economical option.
    On a side note, I was also very impressed with the food that was being delivered to my house. I certainly never had it so good when I was in elementary school in the 80’s. I would sincerely like to compliment the people who made those deliveries possible. My ungrateful sprog may not appreciate the small miracle that it was, but I certainly did.

  4. Here we are postponing the purchase of medicine and household necessities because of the outrageous school property tax. Meanwhile, private Montessori schools are getting by on ONE TENTH of the state’s per-pupil budget and still beating them in scholastic aptitude tests (which proves that you don’t need a property tax to fund education.) The public school system has never been about quality or equality — indeed it CANNOT be, for monopolies with a captive market will produce only waste and stagnation. Government is fundamentally just a protection racket and perpetual budget increases will be justified by any means necessary — plague or no plague.

  5. This kept the school bus drivers employed and probably save the school from paying for a contracted service that they would have otherwise not used. Ours delivered and picked up homework, etc so not waste at all. Would have been driving the same route anyway.

  6. The pandemic has made us realize that there are many private sector services and products that we can easily do without, such as the hollywood movie industry. Taxpayer-financed public-sector services however are being marketed to us as absolutely essential. Many folks are realizing it is possible to cut our own hair and produce some of our own food. The silver lining to a difficult situation is that it may teach us to be more self-sufficient but our liberal state government wants to play it just the opposite…that we need government more than ever just to survive. Instead of providing meat, carrots and potatoes, they have chosen to spend our education funds on hot, prepared foods delivered right to our doors. Obviously, we can’t do without eating, but we can learn to do for ourselves when it comes to turning basic, raw foods into meals, which is a valuable life skill that should be encouraged. The game plan for this pandemic is for leftist government proponents to show us how utterly helpless we all are without their hand-holding guidance in all matters of life. The WIC program is now allowing recipients to make use of groceries-to-go services so they wont have to be subject to the hardship of actually doing the shopping. The SNAP (food stamp) program used to not cover the purchase of prepared, hot foods in order to encourage some level of food prep skills. Now in Vermont you can get a voucher at a farmers market to purchase prepared, ready-to-eat foods such as pizza and burritos.
    This society is doomed, on a course of utter helplessness because of our voting habits.

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