Arizona Republicans set their sights on a new target for the legislative session: poor children. Earlier this week a state senate panel agreed to let schools opt out of the federal program to offer free and reduced-priced lunches for needy students. The measure now heads to a full senate vote.
Republicans sponsoring the measure voiced concern over imposing mandates on schools to take federal dollars they may not want to, relying on the familiar rhetoric of states rights federalism underscoring all social welfare policy debate these days. Of course, this argument entirely ignores the purpose of those mandates, and that is, in part, to ensure equality and uniformity of access to all citizens of all the states as part of a respect for federal civil rights.
And this move seems especially mean-spirited, even for Arizona Republicans. For many poor kids, their meal at school is the only guarantee of food they have for the day. The scientific evidence also could not be any clearer–hungry children have trouble learning and are more disruptive in the classroom. So the impact of eliminating free and reduced lunch programs would be immediate and, not surprisingly, poorer school districts would fare the worst.
It’s also picking a fight, or more appropriately, picking on, a constituency that literally has no ability to fight back. Poor children certainly can’t vote, nor do they have the lobbying strength to organize in opposition to the move. Instead, needy kids are left with the only choice they ever seem to have: figuring out a way to scrape by. In a country with as much as we have, all kids should, at a minimum, be able to afford a school lunch. Making sure all school districts have that as an option costs the state nothing. Why take that away from our most neediest citizens?
Take Action: Tell Arizona not to deny their students meals.
Photo from USDAgov5 via flickr.