Who’s Hungry, Anchorage School District or Children?

The Anchorage School Board will spend $2,107,660 of Federal taxpayer dollars to grow the after-school dinner program for 12 schools in the 2012-2013 school year (Memo #19, ASD School Board) at its August 6 meeting. Many will argue that this is free money because the Federal government funds this program. Others will argue that poor children cannot possibly learn when their stomachs are not full. Still others will argue that it will improve student achievement. Let’s look at these arguments from a factual viewpoint.

Just because the Federal government funds a program does not mean that the program is free. Not even school lunches are free; they are actually “taxpayer subsidized lunches”. These are your dollars which will add to the Federal deficit from funds borrowed from China, most likely. Students who enroll in this program will probably be paying for these “free” meals through their taxes collected to reimburse China for the borrowed money.

This program funds dinners for lower income students, not breakfasts or lunches. Breakfasts and lunches are already provided to these students under other Federal programs. So, these students should not be hungry during the school day because they are already provided nutritious meals through the taxpayer. Few will argue that some lower income students may need lunches to supplement their daily diet. However, should not parents be held responsible for providing dinner? When the government steps in and provides meals for kids, it displaces the parents and absolves the parents of the responsibility to care for their children.

In Anchorage, a household of four qualifies for free (taxpayer subsidized) meals if its income is $37,466 or less. That is a little more than $18 per hour. A household of four is eligible for reduced price meals if its income is $53,317 or less. That is a little more than $25 per hour (Federal Register). Note that one must only pay 40 cents for a subsidized school lunch. The taxpayer picks up the remaining 90 percent of the cost. In reality, these taxpayer funded meals are provided to families making middle class wages. Per the US Census Bureau, the family poverty rate in Anchorage is about 5 percent, yet 45 percent of the children in Anchorage qualify for these taxpayer meals in the schools. This well intentioned program has ballooned to include middle class families. Even many teachers would qualify if their household consists of five family members.

So, what are the motives of the District in enlarging the pool of economically disadvantaged students? Is the District really interested in feeding the children or is it more interested in feeding its budget?  And how does increasing the number of students in the free/reduced price lunch program increase the budget for the School District? First, we must define what a Title 1 school is and what additional Federal funding comes with this designation. Per the School District website, ” Schools are provided Title I supplementary funding based upon the percentage of students in their attendance area who qualify for free or reduced lunch.”. So, if a school has 40 percent of students participating in the free/reduced price food program, then it is defined as a Title 1 school (Title 1 definition). And Title 1 schools receive additional Federal dollars. In this  fiscal year, ASD will receive about $13,209,000 in Title 1 funds from the Federal taxpayer (ASD Financial Plan). When more schools in the District are classified as Title 1 schools, the District receives additional funding from the Federal government for these Title 1 schools. The funding formula would be: the more economically disadvantaged children (those who receive free/reduced price meals), then the more funding the District receives.

To ensure that schools remain classified as Title 1 schools, a specific number of economically disadvantaged students must remain in the failing schools. This coming school year the District has 16 failing Title 1 schools which it must offer parents the option of sending their children to a successful public school. Unfortunately, information on this option is low key so that few choose to opt out of the failing Title 1 school.

The question remains, who’s hungry, Anchorage school District or the children?