Complete solution to school lunch problem


That was an interesting little storm that got stirred up by Fayetteville City Council member Kathaleen Brewer’s comments, last week, about Fayette schools burdened with the stigma of being Title I schools. Believe it or not, I have come to calm the waters.

It seems that a Title I school is a school where a large percentage of the kids receive a free lunch, courtesy of the federal government. There is no such thing as a free lunch, as we all know, so a lot of the same folks who go to free seminars that come with a free lunch are upset by the notion that others might try to get a free lunch.

By the way, these seminars with the free lunches often purport to teach people how to avoid paying taxes or how to have Mama’s nursing home expenses covered by Medicaid so she can leave her children a bigger estate. But I digress.

It’s been a long time since my own children attended school, so I have to rely on current published reports that parents nowadays are asked to fill out forms reporting their annual income to the school. Here’s the funny thing: the Internal Revenue Service says if your income is below a certain amount, you don’t need to file a tax return, but here it is the reverse, as parents are told that if their income is above a certain amount they don’t need to file anything and their kids will have to pay for their own lunch.

So here you are at home, struggling with your budget, and you ask yourself, Do I really want to pay for my kids’ lunches at school, or not? What is income anyway: gross income, adjusted gross income, modified adjusted gross income, federal taxable income, state taxable income?

Having never seen the form involved, and the instructions that come with it, I can’t say what goes through people’s minds as they look at forms that, in the end, represent the key to a free lunch.

Some suspect that general moral decline impels a lot of parents to lie about their income. Uncharitable as the thought might be, there might be a bit of truth in there. Then there are claims that the federal government, which reimburses the schools for the free lunches, won’t let the schools audit more than 3 percent of the reports filed by the parents.

The bottom line is that some kids eat lunch for free, and others don’t.

So we have two groups of kids in every school.

There is a solution to this whole problem which I am about to provide. But let me say that, in our society, we could have kids that pay for their school books, and kids that don’t. We could have parking fees for kids that drive to school, bus fees for those who take the bus, and school crossing guard fees for those who walk. (OK, let’s not give anybody any more ideas.)

The solution to the school lunch problem is this: let’s give all the kids a free lunch.

Of course, there is no free lunch. But all our taxpayers, including all our parents, pay a local sales tax for schools, much of which is more or less squandered on fairly extravagant sports facilities and technology of dubious usefulness.

Some purists will naturally argue, as all purists do, that the sales tax is meant to be spent on capital projects, like school buildings, buses, and items expected to last a while.

To these people I would say that, before there was a local sales tax, money was being spent on that kind of capital projects out of the general budget. Now that this kind of expense can be transferred to what the sales tax can pay for, this creates an opportunity to use the corresponding amount of money no longer needed for capital purposes to be used for things like free lunches for the kids.

Imagine the uproar: Fayette County being touted as a county with the vision to make free lunches available to all the school kids. No more Title I school stigma, no more millennials who shun our schools or our area, no more parents suspected of dishonesty. A progressive county who tells the federal government to shove it. Wow!

Not only that, but the dreaded forms won’t be needed any more. One less hassle for both the parents and the schools.

The kids who forget to bring their lunch money to school? Never a problem again. Kids whose lunch money is stolen? Never again.

Schools won’t need lunchroom cashiers or cash registers, no money will have to be counted and taken to the bank, no audits will need to be performed (and paid for). School personnel counts will go down, and there will be savings there for the schools and the taxpayers.

There is even more to it than that. No more negative headlines about our schools!

Whether all this will lead to another boom in local real estate values is not for me to say, but when you think of it, progressive thinking is what brings about progress.

[Fayette resident Claude Y. Paquin is a retired actuary and lawyer, and a teachers’ college graduate whose career path took him away from school lunchroom duty.]