By U.S. Representative Todd Rokita (R-Ind.)
When it comes to helping students succeed, there are few things more basic than making sure they eat well at school. Ultimately, this is supposed to be the job of every parent. However, when it’s somehow determined that a family is too poor to do so, churches, non-profit groups, and taxpayers step in. As Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, my committee has the responsibility to review federal government student meal assistance programs, whether paid for by taxpayers or our national debt.
Despite being seriously mischaracterized by ideologues whose ultimate goal is universal government feeding, the “Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016” is a major step forward in making sure an appropriate safety net exists and that nutrition standards are revised so that school food is more edible.
These same ideologues, and others, have been complaining for some time now that school breakfast reimbursement rates have not been increased since the 1980’s, and that summer meal programs need improvements to better serve dependent students. However, their only answer for paying for these wants was to put it on the backs of some of the same kids in the form of future debt.
Instead, I led with a plan that solves these issues – all without making one kid ineligible who is currently eligible for free or reduced meals, and without costing taxpayers or adding to our debt by one dime. And unlike our Democratic President’s recent bathroom edicts for schools, no money will be cut off for our poorest schools.
The current rules for the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) are perverse, as they incentivize schools to be paid for giving out meals to all students, even to those whose families can or already do pay for their kids’ lunches. Under current law, a school can be reimbursed by taxpayers for offering meal assistance to every student even if just a mere 40% are eligible. This means that schools can have taxpayers pay for every meal in a school even when a majority of students are not determined to need assistance. By increasing that requirement to 60%, we at least make sure that a small majority of students actually qualify for the taxpayer-subsidized meal, before taxpayers have to pay for all students to receive them. This is hardly an unreasonable or unfair threshold, and is consistent with other policies affecting the school lunch program. We then use the savings from the CEP reforms and give the money right back to the schools in the form of the increased breakfast reimbursement and improved summer meal access.
Ensuring that students in actual need have these well-funded protections in place is how ‘we the people’ should judge our success, not by how much money a school can make off of the entire school population or how much more dependent on government we can make individuals and families. As such, we should not judge our success by how many citizens the government feeds. That is simply a measurement of the breakdown of the family – the most important building block of a free society.
My goal will always be to help families rise out of needing government assistance. It’s not surprising that those opposed to the bill have to resort to scare tactics, claiming that we are “taking food from the mouths of Indiana’s children” in order to justify increasing government dependency. Our proposal responsibly continues to offer a safety net for children in actual need and returns power to local leaders and parents. Unfortunately, those attacking this bill don’t approve when we can do all of this without spending more of your money or making free people more dependent on government overseers.