Wisconsin school district opts out of free lunch program, citing kids ‘becoming spoiled’

Every other eligible school district in the state is providing all students free meals this year

Loading the player...

The Waukesha school board in Wisconsin has opted out of a federal program which is giving all students free lunch this year.

Every eligible school district in the state is providing all students free meals – but not in Waukesha, The Washington Post reported. Administrators had opted into the federally funded program last year, which offered free school lunches for all students nationwide amid the pandemic, but the Waukesha school district claims that this year there is a lower demand for the program.

“As we get back to whatever you want to believe normal means, we have decisions to make,” Joseph Como, president of the school board, said in a meeting. “I would say this is part of normalization.” 

Board member Karin Rajnicek said the free program made it easy for families to “become spoiled,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The school district said: “When you compare last summer’s number of meals served to the current summer’s level of participation, it is down 40%. This indicates a lowering in the demand for this program. … When looking at the free breakfast program, especially at the high school level, each student was handed a meal as they walked in the door. This led to a significant amount of uneaten food and meal-related materials ending up in the trash.”

The government’s COVID-19 lunch program allowed students to get a free lunch despite family income.

“Many families who would not normally qualify for free or reduced-price meals may still need assistance for financial hardships that they have experienced this past year,” said Debra Wollin from the State Department of Public Instruction’s school nutrition team.

“I would suggest this is either an uninformed or under-informed decision on the part of the school board,” said Sherrie Tussler, executive director of Hunger Task Force. “And it should be revisited quickly, because it’s going to result in a loss of substantial revenue for the school system, and that revenue could be used to create additional programming or improve the quality of the food on the plate.”

Karen Tredwell, executive director of the FOOD Pantry Serving Waukesha County, also urged the district to reconsider opting back into the program. 

“When we look at the clients we’ve served this past 18 months, we know there were a lot of people we would consider to be newly in economic straits and believe this could continue to happen,” said Tredwell.

Cafeteria theGrio.com
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

theGrio previously reported that several U.S. cities including New York, Boston and Chicago already offer free school meals for all. But until recently, statewide universal meal programs were considered too costly and unrealistic. California became the first state to adopt a universal program in June, and Maine followed shortly after with a similar plan.

After schools shut down in March 2020, many transformed their parking lots into pickup sites, and federal funding allowed schools to offer meals to anyone. There were no applications, no qualifications and no questions asked.

The massive turnout showed how much families rely on the meals.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the state’s largest district with 600,000 students, handed out upward of 400,000 meals a day, said spokeswoman Shannon Haber. San Luis Coastal, with 7,500 students, gave out 30,000 meals a week at the height of the pandemic, nearly triple what they gave out before. The district includes the wealthy city of San Luis Obispo and lower-income areas.

*This story contains additional reporting from the Associated Press.

Have you subscribed to theGrio’s “Dear Culture” podcast? Download our newest episodes now!

TheGrio is now on Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Roku. Download theGrio.com today!

Loading the player...