"No such thing as a free lunch:" Waterford School District sets new low in betrayal of students and taxpayers

Waterford School District to Taxpayers:
We opted out of the federal lunch program
because kids from struggling families
don't deserve a "free" lunch

In a staggering display of the most unconscionable and irresponsible local-level decision making possible, the Waterford School Board in Racine County voted this week to opt out of the federal lunch program, with no coherent plan for how to run their lunch program without federal funding.  

Think these ideas come from nowhere? They don't
The idea that "there's no such thing as a free lunch" is
a key concept employed by economist Milton Friedman,
mastermind of the school voucher program and
anti-government enthusiast, to convince
Americans that public schools somehow "steal"
from the taxpayer instead of invest in
the common good and benefit us all.
Friedman's 1995 essay for the CATO Institute,
"Public Schools: Make them Private,"
planted the seeds for all of the anti-education
legislation we see today, and the massive
investment in it by special-interest groups. 

Agreeing among themselves that "the FDA standards are going beyond where they should," the conversation is largely hijacked by one Dan Jensen, who argues early that "there shouldn't be any federal lunch program" and cites his "Libertarian standpoint," evoking the specter of Milton Friedman, to defend the idea that since he "doesn't have the right" to ask someone to pay for someone else's lunch, he somehow does have the right to deny local taxpayers of federal funds they support with their own tax dollars.  While they cite a decline in lunch participation and an increase in throwing food in the trash, board members betrayed their real reasons for opting out of the program in fairly short order (emphasis mine - see the full video and story here):
The Board was split on the need to offer a free and reduced program to low income students in the district. Dan Jensen stated he did not feel it was the district’s responsibility to pay for anyone else’s lunch (video 1 at 4:34). Jensen the went on to describe that WGSD could in the future determine the family income levels that qualify a student for free and reduced lunch and what they would be given to eat if they did.
Board member Dawn Bleimehl stated that she hoped that any free and reduced lunch offered by the WGSD “looks the same” as the lunch served to other students (video #2 at 3:57). Dan Jensen went on to disagree that a free or reduced lunch need to look the same and that as a youngster (in RUSD) he was not bothered by standing in a special line while waiting to receive his free or reduced lunch. He agreed it would matter to some students in WGSD, but felt that was the price those students have to pay for receiving a lunch paid for by others (video #2 at 4:40). Unfortunately, the district would then stand to lose many tens of thousands of dollars in Title funds because it would be much less likely to identify and document students from low income households.
The board is, in essence, robbing local taxpayers of the federal funds THEY help support because of a personal "belief" that students who can't afford to eat don't deserve to eat.  
As this local news report demonstrates, the district clearly has not thought through how rejecting nearly $40,000 in federal funds will allow them to provide any kind of lunch at all to students, or how they will manage an alternative plan for providing free and reduced cost lunch to low-income students. There's no back-up plan.  There's no discussion of how hunger will impact student performance and behavior. There's no accountability to district residents who rely on this program because their children could not otherwise access a healthy lunch.  There's no real concern for the impact of this decision on a substantial percentage of children in the Waterford District;  according to 2013 DPI data, at its most needy school, 31.5% of students are eligible for free and reduced lunch. The high school is at the other end of the spectrum, with 12% of students eligible. 

This is precisely what happens when anti-child, anti-education people are elected to represent our schools.  When politics and personal opinion trump the educational success and welfare of our children, something is broken beyond repair. 

I hope the people of Waterford show up with pitchforks at the next meeting of this board.

And I hope they look hard at the spring ballot to make a choice that will matter in bringing some student advocacy to a board that clearly does not put the interests of students first.  

Waterloo knows this.  In the controversy over the "Lunch of Shame" policy, the upcoming school board election has hinged on the need to fight for more equitable and humane lunchroom policies in their district.  The April 1st election could decide that.

Think local elections don't matter?  Who's running for your school board on April 1st?

I know who's running for mine, thanks to SPARC's Local Election Guide and the efforts of many people in our community working to keep people informed and engaged.  If you don't have a group this like in your community, start one. We did. It was easy.  All it takes is a kitchen table and a desire to move forward.  We can even help you get started.  Just get in touch or connect with the Wisconsin Grassroots Network.

I hope every single person who cares about schools takes time to get informed. 

And vote.  

Local elections matter most.  What just happened in Waterford is a disgusting bit of proof.

Postscript, for the optimists: 
Meanwhile, here's what people who CARE about kids are doing in public schools.  The images to your right from the Provo (Utah) City Schools show what can be done to make affordable, healthy, delicious lunch within the parameters of the federal nutrition program by partnering locally and thinking outside the box (or can).

We can do so much better. 

Why is Wisconsin setting the bar so low, when we can reach so high? 

Our kids deserve better.

Our schools deserve better.

Get involved and let your community know what "better" means to you.



  1. Wow...................the board must be part of the Paul Ryan and Robin Vos ideology that you help the disadvantaged even children by demeaning them with rhetoric and kicking them when they're down. What has happened to "Love your neighbor as yourself?" That's right there's a new political party in power in Madison and "Divide and Conquer" is the new mantra with the emphasis on conquer!

  2. Outrageous & absurd! Mr. Jensen is now responsible for denying food to hungry children impacted by institutional poverty.

  3. Waterford School District, as an elected official representing us you need to practice more empathy and less ignorance. Your job is not to push your own propaganda. Your job is to represent us and what we want. Not what you want. We will show you loudly in the next election that your ideas are not our ideas.
    Empathy is the experience of understanding another person's condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling.--Psychology Today
    Ignorance is a lack of knowledge, understanding, or education.-Merriam Webster

  4. I was the poor child. I got the "Lunch of Shame". I went outside instead. Fortunately my school had real human teachers that noticed this and made sure my siblings and I always had something to eat. This is the GOP- The party of deny a child something to eat. Instead of thumping on their Bibles, they should instead take sometime to read the contents, and abide by the life's lessons.