That Kansas City Star report that Harrisonville Elementary School is cracking down on the little scofflaws whose parents can’t afford to pay for their lunch is infuriating only if you believe that we mean what we say about putting kids first in Missouri.
If, however, the whole goal of education is to prepare children for the real world, well then embarrassing those kids whose parents haven’t paid up — ideally by sending them to the back of the line to collect their stigmatizing sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwich — is a service.
One in four children in Missouri is living in poverty.
But low-income children handed a cheese sandwich when they can’t pay will grow up rich in understanding of our priorities.
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They’ll know instinctively why it’s big news when our public schools are fully funded and why it’s nothing out of the ordinary when funding for public universities is slashed.
The young person who has had his lunch dumped in front of him because his account is overdrawn? Now that’s someone who would not register the slightest surprise that Missouri spends 1.9 times per prisoner as per student, has a high number of uninsured children and a poor record of ensuring adequate summer nutrition, according to the latest state-by-state breakdown by the Children’s Defense Fund.
That’s someone who wouldn’t exactly fall out of his chair in astonishment that one of the proposed laws that went nowhere in this legislative session would have punished parents who leave out unsecured guns used in fatal accidental shootings of and by kids.
Or that, just as in Kansas, there’s a record number of Missouri children in need of foster care.
Or even that children in our state are routinely denied such constitutional basics as the right to counsel after an arrest.
As if to make sure that all of the correct lessons are drawn, the Harrisonville Board of Education has adopted tough new policies, even after what officials characterized as its mounting meal debt had already been paid off.
“I don’t understand why they can’t understand it’s not the child’s fault,” said one mother, who asked The Star not to use her name out of fear of further retribution against her daughter, who was sent to the end of the line when her lunch debt climbed beyond $11, after which the new rules kick in.
This isn’t a problem just here, of course; two years ago, a Colorado cafeteria worker was fired for paying for a first grader’s lunch, and in Pennsylvania, a school employee quit to protest lunch shaming.
Last month, lawmakers in New Mexico banned this practice in all of its forms. A Texas bill that would have done the same was blocked by critics who charged that this constituted a government “mandate” and would have cost the school districts money. The bill’s sponsor and an association of food banks are trying to raise private funds to pay off lunch debt.
In states that put kids at the end of the line in any number of ways, it’s adults, rather than children, who ought to be embarrassed, but they aren’t.