DALLAS – Just because next week is Spring Break doesn’t mean Dallas students will go without their free breakfast and lunch.
District officials announced this week that the government breakfast and lunch programs will proceed on schedule through Spring Break, with more than two dozen schools opening up cafeterias from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. to noon throughout the week.
Anyone 18 years old or younger can come in for the “free” food, NBC DFW reports.
Michael Rosenberger, executive director of the Dallas Independent School District’s Food and Child Nutrition Services Department, told WFAA it will cost $10,000 in extra labor to feed students over the five days. That’s presumably on top of the cost of the meals themselves.
Rosenberger said the “expectation” is the district will provide students free food for “every Spring Break from here on out.”
The program was offered at six schools during the 2016 Spring Break, and officials more than quadrupled that figure with 27 schools for 2017.
Sam Tasby Middle School counselor told WFAA the free food giveaway is as much about fighting hunger as it is about control.
“When you’re in your early teens, a lot of kids don’t know how to structure the time and don’t do well when they don’t have a routine,” he said. “They may not say it out loud, but it’s really something they crave and they need.”
DISD officials have steadily expanded the district’s free food programs in recent years, including offerings during the 2016 Thanksgiving and winter breaks. The Thanksgiving giveaway drew 800 kids to 13 campuses over three days, and officials estimate three times that number participated in the winter program between Dec. 28 and Jan. 6, CBS DFW reports.
The district also feeds students through the summer.
The expansion of Dallas ISD’s “free” food programs comes as federal spending on the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program that support it is skyrocketing.
According to a 2015 analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office:
In 2014, the federal government spent about $20 billion to reimburse schools, child care centers, and after-school programs for children’s meals. …
The largest of the five school- and center-based programs, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), fed about 30 million children each school day in 2014 and cost $12.7 billion. The federal government spent another $3.7 billion in 2014 to feed about 14 million children through the School Breakfast Program (SBP). The government also spent $3.6 billion to provide nutritional assistance in locations outside schools and during the summer, as well as to augment children’s diets with milk.
Under current law, the Congressional Budget Office projects, spending would rise to about $31 billion in nominal dollars by 2025. Adjusted for expected inflation, that value represents an increase of 26 percent over 2014 spending.
And the bigger the program gets, the more money is wasted.
McClatchy reported in January:
The Office of Federal Budget and Management named the school lunch program one of its “high-error programs” in 2015. The White House-controlled agency estimates the lunch program makes nearly $2 billion annually in “improper payments,” meaning the government gives money to people who don’t need it or recipients are using federal funds improperly.
The National School Lunch Program’s estimated 15.7 percent improper payment rate is the second highest among the 10 biggest “high-error” federal programs, trailing only the Income Earned Tax Credit’s 23.8 percent rate.