Since the Legislature refused to spend any of the hundreds of millions of extra dollars pouring into its coffers on funding school meals the way Minnesota is doing, the Sioux Falls school district has to track school lunch debt, which may reach $400,000 by the end of this school year, and denying kids meals if their parents get too far behind on their meal tickets:
District child nutrition coordinator Gay Anderson says the district is moving toward trouble with lunch debts. In fact, the district is looking at a $400,000 hit to the general fund assuming current trends continue through May. Anderson explains the letter of the school districts policy.
“We have a policy in place that states from $0 to -$20 we are not to be feeding them breakfast,” Anderson said. “If they are more than -$20 in their account, we would be giving them a ‘smart snack,’ but we would have to charge them a dollar for that. Once they hit -$75, our policy states that we are not to be feeding them, and that’s not something anybody wants to be doing.”
…Anderson reports total local school lunch debt rates had gone up from $7,000 district-wide in 2012 to $220,000 last year [C.J. Keene, “Sioux Falls School District to Begin Enforcing School Lunch Policy,” SDPB Radio, 2023.11.27].
Senator Reynold Nesiba (D-15/Sioux Falls), who represents a lot of the Sioux Falls families who may be struggling to pay for their kids’ school meals, is on a Twitter tear over his school district’s no-soup-for-you policy made possible by his Republican colleagues’ fiscal refusenikery:
Senator Nesiba’s House colleague Representative Kadyn Wittman (D-15/Sioux Falls), who sponsored the free-school-meal legislation that Republicans immediately rejected last Session, shares Nesiba’s disgust at the state’s messed-up moral and fiscal priorities:
Rep. Wittman said this summer she’ll push another bill to fund school meals for all students in 2024. And even the Governor’s mouthpiece blog, which tries to obfuscate our moral clarity with a question-marky headline, may be ready to concede that Republicans should go along with this moral and practical proposal:
If the majority of school lunches are free or reduced cost anyway, why don’t we at least remove the issue and the overhead of having schools having to chase that debt? We argue that schools should have fewer mandates anyway… which comes right before we put new ones on them, and legislators try to send their funding elsewhere. So, why not make it free? Or is the concept of a free lunch for public school children a tougher debate than that? [Pat Powers, “Should School Lunch Be a Government Entitlement? Or Is It a Deeper Debate Than Just Feeding Kids?” South Dakota War College, 2023.11.27]
It’s not a deeper debate, Pat. Food is good for kids. When we as a state can afford to decorate NASCAR cars and dress the Governor as a plumber on national TV, we can afford to pay for the meals every kid needs to power through another day of mandatory school attendance.