Now parents are scrambling to get the program back. The Waukesha School District is the only one in the state to reject the program.
The district relied last school year on the universal free-lunch program — funded by the Department of Agriculture and launched during the coronavirus pandemic as families were struggling financially.
But it voted in June to reject the program. Board members decided instead to return to the pre-pandemic National School Lunch Program, which offers free and reduced-price lunches to low-income students whose families apply for it.
One board member called the move a return to “normalization.” Another complained at a meeting that free school lunch for all would create a “slow addiction” to the service. Board member Karin Rajnicek said the free program made it easy for families to “become spoiled,” reported the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
But the new Alliance for Education in Waukesha, which includes about 900 parents and teachers, is pressing the district to approve the universal meal program as the pandemic continues to take a financial toll on families. The child hunger rate in Waukesha increased from 9% in 2019 to 13% in 2020.
Families also argue that the meals are more COVID-safe by eliminating the need to collect payments, as well as allowing meals to be served easily in classrooms or outside when changing contagion conditions require it. Such a program also avoids stigmatizing children from low-income families who were the only ones to receive free meals under the previous system.
“I think after everything we’ve been through in the last 18 months, anything we can do to help these families and help these kids with the basic necessities of life is so important,” foster parent Chrissy Sebald told WISN-TV. (Check out the video clip above.)