January 14, 2009


So apparently a school in Colorado decided that kids who hadn't paid for past school lunches couldn't get new school lunches. If you are in the red, you get PB&J.

Fantastic idea. Only I'd give them nothing, not even the sandwich. Sandwich fixins cost money too.

And look at the result:

In the first week of a new school lunch program preventing students from charging on overdue accounts, the amount of meal fees owed to the Steamboat Springs School District decreased from $10,000 to $2,800.

We saw this on the news the other night. They were interviewing parents who were mad about the policy. Poor widdle kiddies will starve. My instinct was to quote Kid Rock's "waahburger and some french cries" line.

Not all students are happy with how they were treated after the policy took effect.

Riley Toye, a fourth-grader at Soda Creek Elementary School, organized a petition of 29 classmates protesting how students were treated when they were refused food the first day.

Riley’s letter, dated Jan. 7 and published on page 8 of today’s newspaper, states that she doesn’t think it is right that students were refused hot lunches. Riley said she has been bringing in bagged lunches for students whose accounts are overdrawn.

Fine. If you want to spread your wealth around and make lunches for the deadbeat families in your school, by all means go ahead. Oh wait, that's your parents' money buying those groceries, but whatever; Dad is on board anyway. But the school shouldn't have to keep passing out food for free to people who have no intention of paying.

Parents don't pay for past lunches and then get mad when the school stops serving their kids? Lame. Nice sense of responsibility. Oh, but it's The Precious Children™; we can't let them go hungry. Baloney. If they're hungry, maybe they'll nag their parents to pay their freaking bills. Or at least the parents might feel guilty enough to pay so their kid gets some food. Because obviously they don't feel guilty enough already just owing $100 in back lunch fees.

Other families didn't realize that their kids don't know that things cost money. This mom is awesome.

Farrell said one student’s mother would pack lunches for him to bring to school, but when faced with the options presented in the cafeteria, he often would choose to charge a meal instead. His mother did not know the account was being overdrawn until Farrell began mailing overdue notices to the family.

The student now has $57 in overdue charges, and Farrell said the mom has figured out a way to teach the student a lesson in the process of paying off the amount.

“Now I’m waiting for this little guy to do enough chores to make it up,” she said.

When I was a kid, it would've taken me forever to make up $57 worth of chores, as I received one dollar per week allowance right up until the point that I got my first job. At twelve. Making one dollar per hour.

Side rant: I am turning into one of those cranky old people who say "Back in my day..." all the time. But I watched my neighbor pay her babysitter $30 for three hours of babysitting the other day and nearly fainted. Since when did babysitting outpace real jobs? When I babysat, I made $1 per hour, then $2 later on, until I turned 16 and got my first job for minimum wage: $3.85/hr. But now, minimum wage is $6.35 and babysitters make ten bucks? Really? I mean, this high school girl makes a third more money than I do! I need to quit my job and start babysitting my neighbor's kids. The problem is that when I do it, she expects me do it for free. /Side rant.

And apparently this problem is not just at the one Colorado school; a google search for the article found another school in Washington has the same problem:

Three months after the Edmonds School District changed the way it deals with hungry kids who come to school without lunch money, parents have paid back an estimated $25,000 to $27,000 in owed lunch money.

Am I the only person who never would've dreamed of going through the lunchline without money? Back in my day (heh) there was no charging your lunch to an account; it was a cash-only operation. No cash, and you bummed food from friends. I never would've expected the school to give me a lunch on credit. I never even would've thought to ask.

In an attempt to make parents pay, the district stopped allowing kids to charge food in September. If students owed money and went through the lunch line, cafeteria workers were instructed to throw away their food and give them a cold cheese sandwich instead.

Well, that's pretty wasteful -- if you're gonna throw away the food, you're not really saving the school district any money -- but the visual is awesome.

Maybe if these kids went hungry, their parents would learn a little responsibility. And maybe the lesson would also stick with the kids so that, when they grow up and have their own kids, they teach them that there's no such thing as a free lunch.

I say let the kids starve. But I'm a jerk like that.

Posted by Sarah at January 14, 2009 04:40 PM | TrackBack

What I don't udnerstand is how a kid could be allowed to start a line of credit without his parents' approval? I mean, when I was growing up at least my parents could control me not getting unhealthy snacks at school by just not giving me money...but this school extends credit, easy-peasy?

Posted by: CaliValleyGirl at January 14, 2009 05:17 PM

I'm sure the schools figure they'll just get some TARP money to fix it for them.

Posted by: airforcewife at January 14, 2009 05:31 PM

This brings back memories. I too got a dollar a week too for chores when I was a kid.

But I "never would've dreamed of going through the lunchline without money." Credit!? "Charging on overdue accounts"!? What!? I guess this is "good" preparation for their "adult" lives.

Dad is on board anyway

Sadly, some of these kids don't have dads. Male genetic sources, yes, fathers, maybe not.

I say let the kids starve. But I'm a jerk like that.

I'm an even bigger jerk. I say schools shouldn't feed anyone. Bring PB&Js from home.

Posted by: Amritas at January 14, 2009 05:39 PM

No kidding!!! I packed PB&J every day of my school life; we were allowed to buy lunch twice a year. It's a luxury, man. And waaah about "it's not hot" - how does that even matter?

Posted by: kannie at January 14, 2009 06:51 PM

I hear you sister! You know what gets my blood boiling? The kids who charge lunch manage to have money to buy other items like ice cream, cookies, etc. I like the idea of every one bringing their own lunch! Schools are hard hit financially and this is just another way some adults will suck them dry. I liked this topic.

Posted by: Heidi at January 14, 2009 07:35 PM

At our school, if they have no money, they get their tray taken away and are given a pb&j sandwich and a milk. The majority of parents just don't care. It's sad, but true. One parent gave me money to pay for kids that didn't have any after I covered her son's lunch once. She assured me that it was to go to ANY student, even if they wouldn't replace the money. It was gone in a week. I don't cover lunches, and have crying kids almost every day. It's sad.

Posted by: ABW at January 14, 2009 07:59 PM

simple solution. You want your kid to have lunch at school? Prepay. Make it a debit situation instead of credit.
However, I never had this problem. We were a small school. They sent a monthly bill to our parents (we didn't have to pay in the lunch line). If they didn't pay it (and it was really past due) you were not allowed to be involved in school functions until your account was current. Star of the basketball team? On the bench if your bill isn't paid. Sorry.

Posted by: sharona at January 14, 2009 08:03 PM

Ha! I'm with you on this one. 100%.

Posted by: Tucker at January 14, 2009 09:39 PM

When I was in elementary school (San Antonio, mid-70s, Germany, late 70s-early 80s), there wasn't a lunch line - everyone packed a lunch. Not until junior high (El Paso) was there a lunch line, and - as far as I know (I still packed one), it was a cash-only deal. High school in Germany (my last 2 years), I was even able to walk home from lunch, since I lived a block from the school...

Now, substitute teaching, I think it's mostly a debit system as I've seen. The schools don't want the little ones to have cash - that way it can't be lost or stolen (not that it wouldn't be a good life lesson if that did happen, but it avoids the whole issue for a teacher about finding a potential thief). Not being at any one school all the time, I'm not sure how it works for kids who perpetually don't bring the funds. Oh, one other thought - the "no cash" thing might be somebody's idea of trying to hide which kids get the free lunch, if everyone has to punch in there code at the register at the end of the lunch line...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at January 14, 2009 10:00 PM

Our school has this type of system. You send the money to the school and it goes into an account for your child. They go through the lunch line, give their name to the lady at the "register" and she scans their name and it deducts the hot lunch (or "milk only" for those with cold lunch that buy a milk) price from the account.

You get a letter home when the account hits $10 (lunch is $2, so it's a warning that your child has 5 days left). Then you get a pink sheet if it goes into the negative. I have to admit that I've gotten a few of those on accident. Thought I sent the money, but I didn't UGH. I think they allow a few bucks in the negative for parents like me that can be flakey, not criminal LOL they cut the kid off at -$10.00. The secretary also calls the parents at that time just in case the letters are not getting home.

Posted by: Tracy S at January 14, 2009 11:01 PM

I read this post and thought “Steamboat Springs?”

Assuming SS CO has not suffered some Chernobyl style mishap to dramatically alter the economic realities of the community a bit of census data might be informative.

To wit:

USA Household Median Income 1999: $42,000 (Source http://www.census.gov/prod/2005pubs/c2kbr-36.pdf)

Steamboat Springs Household Median Income 1999: $54,647. (Source http://www.localcensus.com/city/Steamboat_Springs/Colorado)

I’ll do the math for you. That is THIRTY percent above the national median.

It holds steady if we look at family income. US median Family income (presumably with kids in school they are part of a family) in 1999 was $50,594. (Source: http://www.uscDOTedu/schools/sppd/lusk/casden/research/data_folder/us_faincsize.pdf)

Median Family Income in SS CO in 1999? $65,685. That is 29.8% above the national median family income.

Clearly affordability of school lunches is not the issue in Steamboat Springs. So what is?

Posted by: Tim Fitzgerald at January 15, 2009 12:27 AM

At the kids elementary school, they each have an account that draws a debit--we put in the cash, and they pay for their lunches (and the occasional we've missed the alarm breakfast) and when the cash is gone, we add more.

My son was living very high on the hog, because they can purchase all manner of snack foods as well. Bottled water, juice, chips, granola bars, etc either in addition to, or in place of, the hot lunch option.

By the end of September, the kid had burned through $100--more than I spent on lunch in the same period! When questioned, he explained what he'd been buying. Now, the account has a "meal only" clause in it, as well as the option to purchase an extra milk each day (because, quite frankly, I can't imagine calling myself a good parent and not let him drink all the milk he can drink.)

But there was no slap on the wrist for overspending. He learned a key lesson about a fiscally responsible government that day. I (his government) had paid for his lunches. However, he chose to squander that benefit on things he didn't need, rather than making wise choices. The result was that there was no money left in the government's coffers to continue to provide for him, so he was now forced to use his money (from his piggy bank) to purchase a lunch, or he could pack a lunch from home, until the government's budget was renewed and could pay for his lunches again.

As the $100 was supposed to last 3 months, he took his lunch for eight weeks.

And now, he eats the hot lunch, usually gets an extra milk, and is thankful for it.

The kids whose parents don't provide a meal for their kids, not because they can't afford it (those lunches are also paid for by me and the other taxpayers) but because they are failing in their responsibility as parents--to provide for their children--should be reported to social work services. The child shouldn't be punished because their account is in arrears, as that bill is their parents' responsibility. Unpaid amounts should be reported to the county tax assessor, and the normal penalties for late payment added to their annual tax bill.

Or, even better, the parents name and picture should be published in the monthly school newsletter, or local paper. Just like deadbeat dads (because women, who are 100% equal in all aspects to men, still get custody over 90% of the time, but then need the male to continue to provide for them through alimony, but if the man retains custody, alimony and child support are more often than not unheard of.. sorry, separate rant and topic, I'll not hijack the tread.


Posted by: Chuck at January 15, 2009 12:29 AM

First of all I'm shocked that lunch is $3. I guess I shouldn't be because it's been a reaaaally long time since I was in grade school, but still.

I think I'm more shocked that they allowed children to run up bills like that than anything else. How is a child allowed to incur a $57 debt. If they can't afford to pay for lunch that's one thing. They said children receiving free lunches were not affected and reduced rate lunches were given some leeway. I agree with both those programs. But a family being able to afford it and letting the child run up a debt is awful. Is this debit system what is allowing the epidemic overweight kids? They can charge whatever they want?

With all the options in terms of pre-prepared/convenience food and new container options out there why are parents not making their kids lunches. Is it not cool or something? I'm genuinely asking as I am childless.

When I was a kid I brought my lunch about half the time and I made it myself as my mom was a single mother and sometimes didn't have the time. If she forgot to leave me lunch money I didn't throw up my hands and cry, I made my lunch from what we had. Do children not do anything for themselves these days?

Posted by: Mare at January 15, 2009 08:17 AM

Mare -- I don't get it either. Of course, when I was in school, lunch cost $1.20, so I took a dollar and a quarter from my mom's purse every morning and then PUT THE NICKEL BACK AT THE END OF THE DAY. So what do I know? I was born with an acute sense of property rights :)

Posted by: Sarah at January 15, 2009 08:31 AM

Throwing out the food sends a terrible message. The lesson to the kid should be that the food costs something, rather than that it's just a game. Throwing it out shows that it's worth nothing, and paying is a game. If you can't pay at the store, they don't throw out what you selected, they put it back on the shelf, and show you the door.

So. Put the paying part BEFORE you fill your tray. I had to buy a monthly, or weekly lunch ticket that got punched. No ticket, no lunch.

It is wrong to insulate kids from all of life's realities. A kid who can't pay for lunch is not going to starve. If the kid IS starving, then a whole other mechanism needs to step in. Schools are NOT equipped to be one-stop welfare agencies, nor should they be, however much so-shuh-lists [spelled that way to get around Fluffy -- Sarah] may wish them to be.

Posted by: Bill at January 15, 2009 10:24 AM

When I was in school there were 3 options to get "hot" lunches. 1) Parents could pre-pay by the month, 2) Kids could bring in lunch money on a daily basis, and 3) Kids could get hot lunch free or at a reduced price by qualifying for the free and reduced lunch program (based on parents' income). Probably 30-40% of the kids at my elementary school were on the free or reduced lunch. But there was definitely no "credit" extended. Kids could not overdraw lunch accounts.

Posted by: Leofwende at January 15, 2009 11:23 AM

It's hard to even teach the kids a lesson though!
My son had a period where he kept "losing" his lunch. Whether it was actually losing his lunch sack, or purposefully doing so, I don't know. So I asked the school to STOP giving him the food. He won't starve in a day, he'll learn a little more responsibility, and I'll stop building up a line of credit for crap food. They wouldn't do it. If a kid comes through the line and gets food, regardless of whether they can pay, EVEN if his mom says "please stop giving my kid that food" they won't do it. Pissed me off to no end. Now I'm having to teach the same lesson, but in a much less direct and effective way.

He's much better about it now, btw. :)

Posted by: Tara at January 15, 2009 08:12 PM

The school I have subbed at most is in a very affluent neighborhood, so pretty much all the kids (with a few special needs exceptions) come from very affluent families. But even there, they don't have the "extras" available every day (I think it's a selection of ice creams on Fridays?), and those are limited in how many they can pick up. But, I think that is mostly for nutritional reasons, not money ones...

Right now, I pretty much ALWAYS pack a lunch. I spend my lunch hour in the company-provided fitness center exercising, so I can't take the time to go out. Saves me money, and saves me calories (which is important right now, as I'm making a concerted effort to lose weight...and making progess). Sandwich, chips, tea...the only time it's a "hot lunch" is when I haven't had time to pack one so I'm eating my emergency microwave pasta that stays in the drawer...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at January 15, 2009 08:18 PM

I remember the tickets – I think we had a ticket system all the way through high school. In elementary school, we had to sign up for hot lunch that morning, or we got a peanut butter sandwich (if we came in late, we had the humiliating walk to the office to sign up. I don't remember if that was an "if there are any leftover" issue, or if we had to catch the list before they called it in).

In junior high, the "extras" (extra fries, milkshakes, snacks, sodas) were on a cash-only basis. The rest of the meals were on a ticket system, prepaid. They kept the ticket at the desk (I don't remember if they did that in elementary school), like they did in high school, so you couldn't lose it, and they'd tell you when you were getting short. They didn't care if you didn't have money – you didn't have a ticket, you didn't get food. Wah, wah – share with your friends.

In high school, my brothers and I volunteered to work in the cafeteria line for free lunches. Saved my parents a lot of money, since we were all in secondary at that time (my youngest brother was still in junior high). There were perks, too: The staff I worked with loved me, so they saved me cookies and made my food to order (I would get chicken soft tacos in "bowl" form with the tortilla on top, because I had braces and couldn't chew anything). When I wasn't working in the cafeteria, I often took my own lunch – which I made myself.

My son (and any future siblings) will be home schooled, but I think I will still teach him to make his own lunch. :)

Posted by: Deltasierra at January 20, 2009 12:08 PM