Few people-even coldhearted fiscal conservatives like me-would argue against the benefit of free breakfast at school for low-income students. But the Chicago Public School district has started a firestorm by requiring elementary schools to serve kids free breakfast every day in their classrooms . (Hat tip to Parcbench .)
Yes, instead of offering breakfast to some students in the cafeteria, CPS is forcing teachers to serve breakfast to students at their desk. Not only does this take up valuable classroom time, but it could cause overeating among the kids who already eat breakfast at home and, most importantly, it creates a dangerous environment for the ever-increasing number of kids with allergies. Even if the schools don’t serve peanut products in the breakfasts-something that the school agreed to after parents spoke out-anyone who’s been to more than a handful of kiddie birthday parties knows that, while peanuts are the scariest and most high-profile food allergen, plenty of kids are allergic to wheat, dairy, and eggs. Parents quoted in the Tribune are especially worried because the plan calls for kids to be the ones who do the cleanup.
So why would CPS cut into valuable class time and risk endangering the heath of students? Because, apparently, it’s a fantastic way to make money! And unlike those vending machines spitting out calorie-laden Cokes and Pepsis and candy bars, the financial incentive here comes not from evil corporate America, but the USDA. As this Tribune piece points out , the breakfasts cost the district about $1, but it receives from $1.46 to $1.76 per meal from the USDA for students who qualify for free or reduced meals. That works out to more than $18 million a year in extra revenue.
Yes, Chicago schools should find a way to get their needy students a healthy breakfast. But I doubt that anything they can put together for $1 is going to be full of whole grains, healthy protein, and/or fresh fruit. And the attempt to make it mandatory, taking away instruction time and putting children at risk, all to make money, is just plain cynical.
Photograph courtesy Scott Olson for Getty Images.