Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants to provide free breakfast and lunch to all Michigan’s schoolchildren despite the fact that over half of them already qualify for help.
Whitmer’s executive budget allocates over $4 billion for K-12 public education, $160 million of which is earmarked universal free school meals.
“It’s hard for kids to learn on an empty stomach,” said the governor. “Let’s deliver on my budget proposal to offer all 1.4 million public school students in Michigan free breakfast and lunch, saving families over $850 a year and helping them succeed.”
The Michigan Poverty Task Force reports that 43% of families live below or near the poverty level.
However, data from 2021 shows that over 700,000 – more than half of Michigan students – are already qualified for free or reduced-price lunches under the current system. This means that Whitmer’s spending plan will benefit middle- or high-income students more than the struggling students who already receive aid.
Creating such programs for families who may not want them could also contribute to the egregious food waste that occurs in schools. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that U.S. schools waste 530,000 tons of food every year.
Michigan’s funding mechanism for universal free meals is also questionable.
According to the School Nutrition Association, feeding one student breakfast and lunch at school costs, on average, $6.53. Federal subsidies average $5.20, roughly 80% of the meal’s cost.
Subsidies for Michigan’s free lunch program would then cost the taxpayers roughly $800 million to feed students who likely don’t need government assistance.
So while parents might pay less for groceries, they’ll be paying even more in taxes to fund a superfluous, billion-dollar program.
And Michigan isn’t the only state to pursue such programs.
In November, Colorado voters approved a proposition to raise state taxes in order to provide universal free lunches, even though only 7% of students who didn’t qualify for the existing program needed assistance.
In Missouri, state Rep. Doug Richey, R-District 39, sees a troublesome trend of schools becoming one stop shops for America’s children.
“We’re turning our public schools into a hub for social services,” Richey told The Lion. “We started that a long time ago, and now we are absolutely connected to this concept, that a public school district is a hub for the Department of Mental Health, Social Services Children’s Division, Health and Senior Services, and Medicaid programs.”
Richey recalled asking school administrators about what they would prioritize: free lunches or teacher pay.
“It would actually be good to have both,” they responded.
“It doesn’t work that way,” Richey replied. “I can’t spend the same dollar two times over.”
Nonetheless, Michigan seems more than willing to spend taxpayer money for an initiative that seems more geared toward virtue signaling than helping disadvantaged students.