Dear Commons Community,
Last Thursday, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference and opened her comments as follows:
“I’m Betsy DeVos. You may have heard some of the ‘wonderful’ things the mainstream media has called me lately,” she said. “I, however, pride myself on being called a mother, a grandmother, a life partner, and perhaps the first person to tell Bernie Sanders to his face that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
DeVos was using the aphorism to speak more broadly about her approach to government. And it’s worth debating how that broader view colors her approach to education policy. After all, more than half of America’s students now qualify for free and reduced-price meals, a common marker of poverty, and schools will be stretched to meet their needs both inside and outside the classroom
The fact of the matter is that for millions of children in the United States ― all of whom she’s pledged to serve as education secretary ― there is such a thing as a free lunch. And the important role it plays in their education and well-being is no laughing matter.
In 2012, 31 million children received meals through the National School Lunch Program which was established in 1946. For many of these children, that free lunch at school is the only meal they will eat that day. According to the nonprofit No Kid Hungry, about 13 million kids in the U.S. struggle with hunger. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that the amount of public school students living in poverty rose from 17 percent to 22 percent between 2000 and 2013.
However, legislative efforts over the past year show that lunch programs may end up on the chopping block. In April, the House of Representatives introduced a bill that would scale back the number of free meals offered at schools in the U.S.
In light of DeVos’ remarks, educators, parents and former students are speaking out in defense of the National School Lunch Program and stressing the adverse effects of having hungry children in classrooms.
It should also be mentioned that the National School Lunch Program and the National School Breakfast Program are under the authority of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, not the Education Department. Regardless Devos’ comments were problematic and insensitive to the needs of so many children who live in poverty.