A plan to cover the cost of student meals at K-12 public schools puts $30 million on the table and potentially in the garbage bin.
Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, has questioned Senate Bill 4, sponsored by Democratic Sens. Michael Padilla of Albuquerque and Leo Jaramillo of Española. It would pay for all school breakfasts and lunches, regardless of family income levels. Muñoz asks “is it better for me as a parent that can afford to pay for my kids’ lunch to go ahead and pay for it so another kid can have more?” The answer is “yes.”
Muñoz and members of Senate Finance Committee lunched last week at Ramirez Thomas Elementary School on Santa Fe’s south side. Muñoz gave the $4.57 lunch food a grade of 85% to 90%, joking it could have reached 100% if there’d been ice cream. And while kids got meals in an efficient manner, he couldn’t gauge how much was tossed based on one visit.
And that’s with some students paying. “Tray waste” will undoubtedly go up if it’s all free and students of means bring a lunch as well.
Bill supporters have long spoken against “lunch shaming,” where students who receive free or reduced-price lunches are easily identified with a scarlet “L.” But in this era of reloadable debit cards, there is no reason for anyone to know who puts money on a student’s meal card, be it family or federal government.
The governor says free lunches can help address child hunger and nutrition — worthy endeavors that invest in our youth. The bill also provides funding for N.M. produce, a healthy positive.
But there truly is no free lunch, and Muñoz is right to question if spending $30 million a year on lunches for students who don’t need or want them is the best use of public dollars.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.