S.41 – Mandating free school breakfast and lunch
This bill would mandate that lunch be provided to South Carolina public school students at no charge to the students. While schools do currently provide breakfast and lunch, the students and their families must pay unless they qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Moreover, only the breakfast program is mandatory for all schools, under current state law. Requiring all schools to provide both meals free of charge would greatly increase program costs.
The bill also states that the Department of Education (DOE) will pay for any needed equipment and facilities to provide meals. South Carolina’s free and reduced school lunches are currently funded federally, through the United States Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program, and are administered at the state level by the DOE.
There are three concerns with this bill. First, it would likely expand state dependence on federal dollars. Second, it would create a costly state mandate if federal funding failed to cover the costs of a mandatory school breakfast and lunch program. Third, dictating the specifics of how students are cared for in public schools is not the proper role of the legislative body. That is an executive function and properly the role of the DOE.
If the General Assembly feels the DOE (under the control of the legislatively-elected Board of Education) cannot be trusted to care for and educate students, the answer is not micromanagement through state law. The answer is to institute real accountability – starting with placing the DOE under the control of a superintendent of education appointed by the governor.