Free meals for public school students draws ire in Wisconsin city

Waukesha, Wisconsin, made headlines last week when public school officials declined to extend a federally funded free meal program to all students—as it had done the prior year—making it the only eligible district in the state to opt out of the program. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that one school board member said the program made it easy for families to “become spoiled.” Although students from low-income families could still apply for free or reduced-cost meals, the Seamless Summer program extension allowed students to be fed regardless of their ability to qualify, pay, or persuade their parents to fill out forms. It also eliminated the stigma of qualifying at all, since everyone was eligible. Plus, the program brought additional revenue to the school district since it provided higher reimbursement rates. While board officials initially dug in their heels, arguing that the free breakfast program caused increased food waste, it seems they have since reversed course. In an “incendiary meeting” that spilled into two overflow rooms and sparked debates that linked free meals to mask mandates and critical race theory, the Journal Sentinel reported that board members on Monday voted 5-4 to revoke their previous decision. It’s a win for students: The child hunger rate in Waukesha County increased from 9 percent to 13 percent between 2019 and 2020. 

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