It’s not every day that Mascoma Valley Regional High School in Canaan, NH finds itself at the center of an international controversy. But thanks to social media, that’s what happened when school cafeteria worker Bonnie Kimball’s story broke. One day she’s talking to the local paper, the next internationally-known chef Jose Andres is tweeting out about her and offering her a job.
As you probably know, Kimball’s story is that she let a student who had no money in his account eat lunch, with a manager’s permission, and told him to have his parents’ pay up his delinquent lunch account. She says they did pay up–the next day–and her firing is a mean-spirited outrage.
After a week of pummelling in the press, the president of Fresh Picks Cafe responded with a video statement. He alleges that the student had been eating lunch regularly but hadn’t been charged for a meal by Kimball in three months. He says Kimball lied about her practices to management and “now that there’s a change in staff, this student’s account shows regular activity.”
Stay tuned for further developments…
Whatever the facts turn out to be, the Bonnie Kimball story offers an excellent metaphor for the current state of American politics and the Democratic POTUS primary here in New Hampshire.
The old saying used to be “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Watching the 2020 Democratic primary thus far, the new approach appears to be “Of course there’s a free lunch–and if you don’t agree, you want children to starve!”
An unwillingness to support the Medicare For All proposal embraced by many Democrats is described as “denying health care to Americans who need it.” Refusing to endorse the Green New Deal approach to climate issues is equated with either science denial, condemning the next generation to death (“Our lives are literally at stake”), or both. The same is true for “free” college tuition, “free” daycare, etc.
After a while, all this “free” stuff starts to get expensive. As the Washington Free Beacon reported, Sen. Warren alone has proposed or endorsed a total of $129 trillion in new spending over the next decade. Total federal spending over the next 10 years would otherwise be around $50 trillion.
Assume the Free Beacon’s off by 100 percent, her proposals still more than double total federal spending. And while Warren has proposed a wealth tax (essentially a federal property tax on all assets held by the wealthy), it wouldn’t cover even a tenth of the new projected spending.
And yet there is only nominal pushback, particularly among Democratic primary voters and liberal-leaning media outlets. It appears the candidates and their likely voters have embraced a political “Nike” moment– Just Spend It.
Now consider why Bonnie Kimball is a “hero” at Mascoma Valley Regional High: For giving away a lunch that someone else is going to have to pay for.
The problem is that 75 percent of public schools report they’re stuck holding the bag for students who use their cafeterias but don’t pay. Public schools have to (pardon the pun) eat millions of dollars every year for parents who essentially skip out on their tabs at the local school lunchroom.
In some districts, it’s just a few dollars. In one, it was more than $800,000. These aren’t poor families. If they were, they would qualify for the federal school lunch program, which extends all the way to 185 percent of the poverty level. (For a family of four, that’s more than $45,000 a year).
How much “free lunch” can a school afford? Consider the case of SAU6 in Claremont. Last year the district began with more than $32,000 in lunch debt. When the school board began publicly considering a collection agency, private donors stepped up to wipe out the debt.
But wiping out debt isn’t the same as changing behavior. If anything, it encouraged students to keep eating and their parents to keep not paying. By Christmas, SAU6 was back to $20,000 in “free” lunch debt.
Were the lunchroom workers or school officials who allowed this debt to run up “heroes?” Do the local property taxpayers–some of whom earn less than the families eating for free– think it’s heroic that they have to pick up the tab?
Defending the taxpayers means telling people who want free stuff “no.” It means telling them they can’t have everything they want at other people’s expense. In other words, it means giving up any hope of being a major party’s nominee for President of the United States.
Nobody gets called a “hero” for saying no.