There seems to be nearly universal brouhaha over the lunch program in our schools these days. How could things get so far out of whack over something so simple?
During my student days at Neffs Elementary School, lunches cost 15 cents and included whole milk, either chocolate or white, from Garvin's dairy. The food was superb!
Our school cook, Mrs. Alexander, and her rotating crew of parent volunteers, saw to it that even the green beans and peas were tasty. Enticing aromas from her kitchen wafted through the corridors and into our classrooms, teasing us with promises of made-from-scratch gustatory delights.
Overpowering even the doctor's office smell of the office mimeograph machine, this piquant olfactory advertisement told us what was on the menu, whetting our appetites and fueling our furtive trading in food futures at the lunch tables. We always cleaned up our trays and stood in line to get seconds.
Despite this, I can only recall one or two kids in the entire school who could have been termed obese and don't remember school lunches ever being blamed.
My personal favorite was Mrs. Alexander's masterfully prepared fruit crisp and I often negotiated convoluted trades and multi-tiered exchanges to get all I could. Over the years, I became something of a fruit crisp aficionado, with cherry emerging as my personal preference, followed closely by peach. The only minor menu faux pas I can recall was short spaghetti, but only because it was broken into spoonable segments for the convenience of my non-Italian classmates.
Today, the Federal Food Police have decided that children's weight and body morphology is no longer within the exclusive purview of parents and their physicians, but should be added to the list of intrusions by one or more agencies of the central government. Hence, the daily school lunch treat has become an exercise in political correctness and an aversive food experience for children.
We now have record-high multi-billion dollar government spending on school lunches that are increasingly ignored and thrown away by children across America. It is encouraging, though, that today's emerging young entrepreneurs are cleaning up by black marketing contraband food to their classmates.
Where is Mrs. Alexander when we need her?
None of this is surprising given the largely negative impact of federal intervention in the states' education systems. The results are usually 180 degrees away from the stated intent, but we never seem to learn. The attempts of central government planners to create homogeneous, top-down rules that apply to all schools in all states simply have not worked and it is time to stop the nonsense, and not just at the lunch table.
Federal requirements in virtually every aspect of education have emasculated our state and local school boards. Constantly coerced by "federal" money, the states have sold their Constitutional control of education for 10 cents on the dollar.
A national curriculum in the form of Common Core Standards is now in place in more than half the states and the rest will soon follow. Acquiescence is required in order to qualify for Race to the Top funding, and few states can afford to lose the money.
Failure to adopt Common Core Standards and comply with Race to the Top requirements means that states cannot receive waivers from onerous No Child Left Behind requirements. Rather than repeal the nobly intended, but poorly implemented NCLB, the central government has chosen to control states' compliance though the ongoing threat-and-waiver process, again coercing behaviors that states and their schools would not choose for themselves.
One unfortunate result of the massive financial pressures associated with federal compliance is a wave of misrepresentation and outright cheating. From cooking the books on test scores, most notably in Atlanta, to miscounting student attendance in Ohio, aberrant practices have become widespread.
What's worse is that student performance has remained static since the creation of the federal Department of Education. Despite the most generous per pupil spending on the planet, student performance has not improved appreciably in 40 years.
Coercive waivers simply perpetuate the boondoggle and hold states and their education funds hostage under the whimsical thumbs of Washington bureaucrats and politicians. Only the states can and should educate their children; federal intrusion has been a disaster.
The most effective course of action at this point is for the United States Congress to simply do away with the federal incursion into education, end the suffering and put us all out of our misery.
Wallace is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Excellence in Education at West Liberty University, a Senior Fellow at the Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia and a healthcare contributor at the CATO Institute.