The little things that progress with a democratic state government

Every once in a while, good things happen here in Minnesota.

The Minnesota House voted 70-58 along party lines Thursday to spend around $200 million a year making school breakfasts and lunches available to all students at no cost.

That’s right, every school, even the rich suburban ones, will have all school lunches subsidized. I know what some people are thinking — the rich kids can afford it, why pay for their lunch? That’s what the Republicans are saying right now.

“Why are we feeding kids in Edina or rich areas that do not need this extra funding? We are pushing tax dollars where they are not needed,” said Rep. Pam Altendorf, R-Red Wing.

Republican lawmakers tried but failed to amend the bill Thursday by somewhat expanding eligibility for free school meals – to 250 percent of the federal poverty level, up from 185 percent – without making them free for all students.

I can be sympathetic to this argument. The problem is that it’s coming out of the mouths of Republicans who are scrabbling for ways to cause some pain to the citizenry — they don’t want to pay for any lunches at all, but if they can’t do that, they want some control. They want to exercise power, even in petty ways. They’ve always wanted to tighten education’s budget in any way possible.

We need to change our mindset on that. Education is a critical function for the state: we should be providing what students need to be prepared to learn (nutrition, books, supplies), and we should be investing in infrastructure, we should be hiring enough teachers and paying them adequately, and we should be doing that equitably for every school and every student. We already prop up inequities by basing school funding on local property taxes, and I see offering an essential service to every school without regard for the artificial partitioning of schools by class and race that are otherwise endemic everywhere in this country as a virtue.

Lunch is a start. Do books and teacher pay next. Or are you going to be upset at helping upper middle class children?


  1. leovigild says

    You can always increase taxes on the rich by the cost of the lunches if it really bothers you. But eliminating excess bureaucracy, and constant intrusion into the lives of people in order for them or their families to receive basic services, is generally a good idea. Among the problems with means-testing is that there are lots of people who would qualify under the old policy who don’t actually get the benefit because they are too exhausted, uncertain, or confused to apply, or whose applications are rejected due to deficiencies in the application. Indeed, the whole point of the red tape is to discourage people from seeking the benefits. Just give the damn lunches to all the kids and cut the paperwork.

  2. says

    The problem is that it’s coming out of the mouths of Republicans who are scrabbling for ways to cause some pain to the citizenry — they don’t want to pay for any lunches at all, but if they can’t do that, they want some control.

    Taking lunch money from kids–it’s what bullies do.

  3. StevoR says

  4. Reginald Selkirk says

    Republicans Propose Forcing Schools to Provide Chocolate Milk to Children

    A New York Republican representative has introduced a bill that would make it federal law for schools to provide chocolate milk, in a broadside against supposed plans by New York City Mayor Eric Adams to ban it over health concerns.

    On February 3, Elise Stefanik, the GOP congresswoman for the empire state’s northerly, rural 21st district, introduced the Protecting School Milk Choices Act of 2023, which would force schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program to offer at least one flavored milk option. The amendment to the National School Lunch Act would also provisions for schools to offer lactose-free milk…

  5. nomaduk says

    Means testing is always, always, always the thin edge of the wedge used to destabilise, overburden, and eventually destroy any public service. There is never a good reason for means testing; it’s always bullshit.

  6. Oggie: Mathom says

    One would think that the GOP would be thrilled. Think of the people who had to process the income verification paperwork — state employees — who will now have to go into private business and stop killing the free market!

    Here in PA, any school district in which a certain percentage of students would be eligible, everyone in the district gets free lunches.

  7. raven says

    It really isn’t going to increase the cost of the Free School Meal program much to offer all Free School Lunches.

    For the states, eligibility runs from 38% to 75% low income and eligible.
    Plus, you save money on administrative costs by not checking on which kids are eligible and which are not. In Minnesota, it is 38% eligible. In Mississippi, it is 75%.

    Percent students eligible for Free School Lunches

    Maryland 45.0 %
    Massachusetts 39.9%
    Michigan 46.1%
    Minnesota 38.1%
    Mississippi 74.9%

    In the rural fundie xian area near where I used to live, the eligibility of kids for Free School Lunches was 88%.

  8. says

    You mean that maybe, just maybe, the most mean-spirited rich kids will no longer have yet another tool to humiliate others — the separate line for those on the free lunch list, where some middle-aged woman checks names off a list? And that’s supposed to be a bad thing?

    Next, though, we’re going to see schools like those in Edina trying to develop the equivalent of executive dining rooms… and manipulating menus against non-WASPs (“Piggie Thursdays” where every item on the menu — except maybe the chocolate milk — includes pork)… Don’t worry, they’ll still be lunchroom bullies.

  9. says

    They could reduce the amount spent on defense. Instead of feeding soldiers they could feed kids. Or instead of spending $250,000/day fueling the Saudi air force to bomb Yemen they could feed kids. They could even be all jesusy and feed some Yemeni kids. Who am I kidding?

  10. consciousness razor says

    That’s right, every school, even the rich suburban ones, will have all school lunches subsidized. I know what some people are thinking — the rich kids can afford it, why pay for their lunch? That’s what the Republicans are saying right now.

    Along with the excellent points from leovigild in #1, you’re literally saying the schoolchildren themselves are the ones who are rich and can afford it. But obviously, they’re not the ones making all that income and don’t own all that property.

    Anyway, you’re saying that “we” shouldn’t pay for those lunches, even though in other context you’re likely to say that they are something that should just come as a matter of course along with their schooling, no matter who the child may be. We’re just not relying on parents to keep their children fed for the day, every day, while the kids are at these institutions run by the state — the state handles that.

    So it’s already problematic when you talk as if the parents (any of the parents) ought to have this individual burden to pay for their own child’s food at school…. They don’t, at least if you’re listening to your own reasons for why we’re doing any of this in the first place. Those are more or less to ensure they can benefit from a decent education, not to mention the simple practical reason that the state (and not a parent or guardian) is actually the one looking after the child while they’re at school. The parents don’t actually have control over what happens in that context, and the burden can’t practically be put on them, unless you have no concerns about what happens to the kids or how that affects their schooling. But you obviously do have such concerns (see above), so that route leads nowhere fast.

    Taking a step back, though, you say “we” shouldn’t pay that bill, because “they” can afford to pay for it. However, as you must realize by this point, we already do collect taxes (on them as well as on us), the rates of which can be changed if need be. So again, the argument is that you don’t need to make it harder on everybody with all this means testing bullshit, since it would only make things more difficult for many at the bottom while doing nothing you couldn’t have already accomplished (with much less pain for everyone else) by adjusting taxes on the wealthy.

    Of course, the public was already in the business of deciding what taxes should be like, so there’s nothing new that needs to be done here. You simply have a good program (pertaining to school lunches) that you want to be working as intended, so like normal, you just do things that will try to make that happen, such as giving it enough funding and not making up a bunch of dumb rules which make things more difficult than they need to be.

  11. Tethys says

    Free school meals are subsidized by the Federal government. IME as a kid who was poor enough to qualify, I shared my free lunch everyday with my friend who did not qualify, so her parents did not bother to feed her at all.

    I am fine with my State and Federal taxes being used to feed all the children without regard to their parents income or parenting abilities. Just because their parents can afford to feed them does not always mean that parents actually provide their children with nourishing food.

    Sadly it won’t take a penny from our asinine, overblown Federal defense budget.

  12. Larry says

    It’s not that the GOP doesn’t want to pay for lunches in public schools, they want to completely eliminate public schools entirely and redirect the money to private schools.

  13. Jazzlet says

    @ Reginald Selkirk
    No problem, schools can offer the minimally sweetened kinds of chocolate milk. I suspect they won’t get many takers, but that’s consumer choice in action right? ;-)

    @ consciousness razor
    Who is the “you” that you are writing about?

  14. robro says

    I’ll second nomaduk @ #5. By setting up a “means test” they create a divide, which they can use as a campaign wedge with “rich” parents whose kids are not getting subsidized milk. “Your hard earned tax dollars are paying for the kids of layabouts, drug addicts, and criminals to get milk in school. This isn’t fair!” It’s surprisingly effective strategy, particularly when the divide is also racial and particularly with so-called Christians.

  15. silvrhalide says

    Of course the Republicans are against free school lunches for all kids. Because Republicans believe life begins at conception and ends at birth.

    You do realize that we are talking about the Republican party, the ones who would criminalize a 10 year old girl for getting an abortion but give a free pass to the 40-something guy who raped her if he was sufficiently Jesus-y enough, right? Because Jesus! (Also because when Jesus said “suffer the little children to come unto me” he 1) didn’t give them free lunches, so that’s right out and 2) didn’t actually mean that the kids should actually suffer.) /s

    Just because the kids’ parents are rich doesn’t mean that the kids are necessarily getting the benefit of that wealth. Toxic and abusive parents are everywhere. There are no shortage of wealthy parents who either withhold food, adequate clothing and/or medical care out of oblivious neglect or out of deliberate abuse/punishment. Doesn’t have to be all the kids in one family either–NPD parents could easily favor the “golden” child/ren and neglect the “scapegoat” child/ren.
    Having free school lunches and/or breakfasts means that ALL the kids can get at least one meal (two if the school district also runs a free breakfast program) regardless of household income and/or status within the family.
    Having all the kids in school show up for lunch/breakfast means it’s a lot easier to see which kids are always hungry, or dirty, or dressed inadequately for the weather, the ones who have a lot of unexplained injuries, cuts, scrapes, bruises, etc. Teachers are mandated reporters. Lots of social services–and protections!–come through the school. Having all the kids in one place at one time just makes it easier to see. No wonder Republicans are against it.

    @5 There are some excellent reasons for means testing but seldom when it comes to kids.
    The Paycheck Protection Program was not means-tested which is why companies like Microsoft, Tesla, Amazon, etc. sucked up most of the money that should have gone to struggling small businesses in the early days of the pandemic. Putting a ceiling on eligibility for the PPP would have meant that there would have been money available for the small businesses that actually needed it. Means testing for kids is usually just done to punish kids and/or poor people for the reasons that leovigild brought up.

  16. Jake Wildstrom says

    I’m a big fan of making entitlements widely available, which I’d extend to things like UBI and national healthcare. Those who don’t “need” the entitlements can simply be taxed to an extent which counteracts the benefit to them (and pays for it for those who can’t otherwise afford it).

    Means-tested entitlements are generally bad, because as a rule they place administrative burdens disproportionately on exactly those populations who are least well equipped to navigate such bureaucracy (particularly the undereducated, the overworked, and the disabled). There are some who regard this as a feature, seeing causing eligible people to give up as a cost-saving benefit, but if government aid is not for those who lack the capabilities to undertake a complicated task, then who the hell is it for?

  17. sophiab says

    I’m a poor kid who went to school with rich kids. I 100% support this. Not every kid in that zone will have rich folks. Not every kid will have folks that are non abusive. And there’s the shame factor. If you can reduce that, do it

  18. antigone10 says

    Here’s the other big problem with means testing, besides the excellent points leovigild brought up, and the fact that abusive and negligent parents exist, and that’s it more expensive to process for stupid reasons: people’s circumstances are not static. Even the cake-eaters in Edina can be buying a new boat one day, get in a boating accident the next day, and be unable to live on their moderately high hog as they can’t work the day after that, and still need to be able to feed their kid the day after that. Means testing means processing time, kids need to eat every day.

  19. gleigh says

    I have no problem with schools offering free meals to all students; I think it is a step in the right direction for all the reasons you all have offered.

    I do have a problem with the content of those meals. My daughter’s 4-H club studied nutrition data for meals served in their school. The kids were surprised by the poor quality of the meals. Their conclusion was that children eating breakfast and lunch at school did not get an adequate, healthy diet. I do not think the school meal program does children any favors. While I was building my house I lived in a low income neighborhood. There were Moms who qualified for free meals but refused to allow their children to partake. They may have lacked an adequate income, but they were not ignorant or stupid. They wanted their children to have good food – not sugar and fat. Even when meals served included good fresh vegetables, these as often as not, went into the trash can. Children who are used to a diet of fat and sugar tend to reject healthier choices when these are offered. Regulations did not allow schools or teachers to waylay the trash — sad when the local landfill gets a better diet than the children, and no one is allowed to benefit from the food children rejected.

    Maybe the idea of universal school meals is a good first step. The next step should be to improve quality. Maybe we need to rebroadcast Jamie Oliver’s School Lunch episodes (on a continuous loop on more than one TV channel?)

  20. Steve Morrison says

    Well, I live in Edina, and I can assure you that not everyone here is well-to-do (I’m sure not). But I do benefit from the public services due to the muscular tax base, e.g. the purer water and the fact that snow gets plowed promptly.

  21. silvrhalide says

    @21 I am with you 100% on the Jamie Oliver thing
    there are school districts where the schools pretty much NEVER close (until the pandemic anyway) because of the free school lunches. Because those lunches are, for many kids, literally the only meal they might get for the entire day. (Yes, weekends suck if you are one of those kids.)

    And having watched the Jamie Oliver School Lunch episodes, the fact that the school lunches are nutritionally awful is not really a surprise. But it is better for a hungry kid to get a less-than-nutritionally-balanced meal than NO meal at all.
    Being hungry affects how well kids do in school. If a kid is hungry, that is not a kid who can reasonably be expected to follow along attentively in class. One of the big payoffs in school districts that started free breakfast programs was less absenteeism and greater student performance. (Naturally, conservatives screamed their heads off about how kids should be at home eating breakfast with mom and dad, conveniently ignoring that mom and/or dad might not be a presence in the kid’s life or the fact that there might not be any breakfast or any other kind of food in the kid’s home. Fuck those assholes forever.) The performance gap between poor kids and their better-off peers started to close and there was a small increase in school participation/extra-curricular activities. Hungry kids don’t play sports either.) Mind you, most of the free breakfast programs aren’t nutritionally great either. But I would rather see a kid eat scrambled eggs, white toast and juice as part of a free breakfast program than get nothing to eat at all.

  22. cartomancer says

    Perhaps we ought to extend this sort of thing further, so that instead of just schoolchildren everybody is entitled to enough food to eat. And enough clean water. And good housing. And healthcare. And leisure time. And everything else they need to live a good life.

    What a concept!

  23. magistramarla says

    Exactly! I taught in a very large high school in Texas. We had kids who came from half a million dollar homes and kids who lived in cars. I told my students that they were allowed to eat anything they wished in my classroom, as long as they cleaned up after themselves. It was often candy or chips that they were eating, but at least the junk food gave them a little boost of energy and kept them from nodding off during class.

  24. silvrhalide says

    @26 But that’s pretty much my point. If the kids weren’t hungry, they wouldn’t be eating candy and junk food. If they got the free school breakfast (for the school districts that offer them) and had a full stomach, how quick would they be to fill up on candy and chips? (If we are talking about teenagers, the answer is “anytime food isn’t nailed down or biting back” because teenagers are bottomless pits.) There’s a concept here of “least harm done” as opposed to “the best possible outcome”. Would it be better if the kids were eating pesticide-free fresh fruit, whole grains, milk and juice? Sure. But you and I both live in the real world and in the real world, the options are “suboptimal free breakfast at school in a controlled [and theoretically safe*] environment” or “stand in line for hours in all kinds of weather for the soup kitchen” and either miss sleep or miss school. Sure, scrambled eggs and white toast are less than ideal but they’re still better for kids than candy and chips, which is what they will fill up on when they are hungry, because they’re hungry and those are the available options.

    *safe for relative values of “safe”, given the preponderance of school shootings. But some of the soup kitchens are in some fairly sketchy neighborhoods too. Flip a coin.

  25. StevoR says

    @17. Jake Wildstrom : Agreed. Definitley in favour of a Universal Basic Income here. ( )

    @25. cartomancer : Seconded 100% and well writ – except I’d say there’s no “perhaps” about it. We should take as our model (here in Oz but also for the US of A too) the nations that are happiest and have the highest average living standards and quality of life for all which tend to feature highly on this list with northern European nations figuring prominenty.

    See 2023 (Yes already!) list here :

    Hmm.. might be interesting to compare that list with least to most religious nations too.. sidenote.

    Also reminds me of the segment in Mike Moore’s Where to invade next? docomovie on school lunches in France vs the same in the USA :

    Nowhere is the contrast between the way things are done in Europe and the way they’re done in the U.S. more pointed than when Moore invades a French school lunchroom and sits down with kids who are eating a meal that would be classified as gourmet in the U.S. t starts with Coquilles Saint-Jacques (sea scallops), continues with a hot entrée, veggies and salad, and ends – this being France – with a cheese course. Sigh. The kids are sweet and unknowing. Moore offers them a Coke he has smuggled into the cafeteria, but it’s a hard sell. When he shows them pictures of mystery-meat school lunches in the U.S. they react with a mixture of doe-eyed horror and pity… (snip)..In the past, Moore’s critics have accused him of oversimplification. But the facts on the ground bear him out, as I learn while exploring the French school lunch program.

    & scrolling and reading down

    The more I learn, the more I realize how deeply school lunch is anchored in the social contract. There is such fundamental consensus about its importance that the French find a way to fund it — even in metro regions where municipal budgets are stretched and a host of social problems compete for money.

    This is amply evident in Paris where kids have access to breakfast and good-quality lunches at schools across the city, even in areas with high unemployment, large immigrant populations and intergroup tensions.

    135,000 meals are served every day. And whether it’s a rich neighborhood or a poor neighborhood, “meals are a special time of discovery and pleasure,” insists city hall.

    Source :

  26. birgerjohansson says

    This reminds me,
    when Margaret Thatcher was minister of education, she abolished the free milk. Kids would have to pay for it.
    Beware of prcks and cnts who want to make children pay for essential nutrients.
    (I am using cnt in the British, *unisex sense. Every non-tory knows Boris Johnson is a c*nt)

  27. birgerjohansson says

    Typos, but I hope you get the point. Using children as props for the shitty neoliberal agenda of Koch et al just shows how low the bastards are.

  28. Doc Bill says

    Of course, all good deeds are balanced by this. Hat Tip to Glenn Branch of the NCSE:

    “Minnesota’s Senate File 517 would, if enacted, require school districts in the state to “provide instruction to students in grades 9 to 12 exploring the contrast between the scientific facts on how sickness, disease, pain, suffering, and death relate to the existence of complex living organisms, and how sickness, disease, pain, suffering, and death are a consequence imposed by the Creator of complex living organisms.”

  29. Tethys says

    Minnesota has plenty of religious people, and sometimes they win elections, generally as Republicans in the hinterlands of the state.

    Senate File 517 has zero chance of becoming law, and Mr Gruenhagen is clearly a creationist.
    I hope he gets mocked soundly, in addition to learning that his proposed legislation violates multiple constitutional rights.