On Monday, the Warwick, Rhode Island, school district will impose some good old conservative austerity measures. It will be cutting back on the variety of food that some children in its schools are allowed to receive for lunch. According to the Providence Journal, all students who haven’t paid up their lunch fee debt will be served only a sunflower-seed butter and jelly sandwich. School committee chairwoman Karen Bachus told the paper, “This policy actually comes out of a serious debt that we’re incurring by people who are not paying for their lunches, and it’s getting worse.”
Warwick Public Schools are carrying around $40,000 in unpaid lunch debt. The debt is due both to parents who can afford to pay for lunches not doing so and to parents who cannot afford to pay at all. But the economic crunch being felt by the Warwick school district is being felt across the country. Providence NBC affiliate WJAR spoke with a local restaurant owner who tried to donate $4,000 to the fund but was rejected.
“I have met with Warwick twice and the second time I left in tears after they refused to take a $4,000 check,” she wrote. “I get where they are coming from. They don’t want parents getting upset if their childs [sic] lunch gets paid for, but if they are going through hard times they may need help. I come up with several different ideas and they were all shut down.”
Warwick Public Schools’ position is that it cannot choose who to allocate money for. Of course, it would be easier if school lunches were provided to all students free of charge, no matter their economic background. The school’s statement on the matter ends with the line, “The business owner has maintained a position that they want to make a single, large donation to the district while leaving the student selection process to the school department. This is a position that the school department cannot support given the school’s mission to treat all children equitably.” Of course, creating a policy of only serving some students jelly sandwiches while allowing others with more means to have more food selections is the opposite of “equitably.”
Budget cuts in the district have already reduced janitorial staffs in Warwick schools, which, according to the Providence Journal, is facing $12.5 million in budget deficits starting in July.
Our current nutritional system for schools is a privatized, profiteering machine, more interested in lobbying against healthier food standards than providing nutritious meals to children. There are angels out there trying to get kids the food assistance they need, but they are doing work our elected officials should be, if they weren’t so morally bankrupt.