How can you avoid being labelled as a ‘school choice advocate’?
As the debate rages on over the New York City schools, one key element is a common belief that all children should be eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
But can the argument actually work?
How do you ensure that your child isn’t one of the unlucky few who gets the ‘free’ lunch?
ABC Education correspondent Mark Latham has been following the debate, from New York’s schools to its parent state of Florida, and has come up with some advice on how to avoid being accused of ‘school-based discrimination’.
“A lot of the rhetoric around this is based on a misunderstanding of what free or low-cost lunch really is,” he says.
“In New York and New Jersey, you get to choose between food stamps and vouchers.
In Florida, you choose between a voucher or food stamp.”
The problem with this argument is that it ignores the difference between a low-price voucher and a low price meal.
If you’re already in poverty, you don’t qualify for free school lunches.
The idea that you’re ‘free to choose’ if you’re poor is based in part on a belief that the cost of a meal is so low that it’s no longer economically viable.
“This idea that all food costs so little that you don´t have to pay anything for it, is the idea that food stamps are not economically viable,” Mr Latham says.
That’s because a voucher costs about $20 in New York, $35 in New Jersey and $75 in Florida.
“If you’re a low income family, that is a significant cost to pay for food stamps.”
If you are poor, Mr Lathan says, then “you don’t have the option of getting vouchers, you can’t afford them and they’re not affordable to many low-income families”.
“In Florida, voucher costs are only $12.50 a month.
You don’t need them.”
This is because voucher costs depend on how long a child spends in school and how much time they have to eat, not on their actual cost of attendance.
If your child is attending school, you pay for lunch, but not for your child’s meals.
If they attend a day care, then you pay the cost to run the day care.
“When people talk about free lunch, they think they are giving food away,” Mr Tuller says.
He’s a professor at the University of Florida’s College of Education and Policy.
“Free school lunch is really a matter of subsidising meals for low- and moderate-income students, so they are paying for lunch and the school pays for it.”
“Free lunch is a lot more about access to food than it is about economic opportunity.”
In a report published last year by the University and College of New Jersey’s School Choice Initiative, it found that voucher programs are more cost effective than traditional public school lunch programs.
“Most voucher programs have no discernible impact on hunger, and their costs are lower than those of traditional public schools,” the report found.
The report found that Florida vouchers are especially effective when it comes to low- to moderate-wage families, where vouchers are generally less expensive. “
For low-wage, low-resource families, vouchers provide a critical lifeline to food security and prevent food insecurity.”
The report found that Florida vouchers are especially effective when it comes to low- to moderate-wage families, where vouchers are generally less expensive.
The program also offers free meals to people with disabilities and students with disabilities.
“Vouchers provide a vital financial lifeline for low income families in New Mexico and New York,” the study found.
The report also found that vouchers can be used to help pay for a child’s first year of college.
It found that a student with a $40,000 income, or a family with a single parent, would have to spend about $1,300 to attend a four-year public college in New Orleans, $1.3,000 to attend two-year community college in Buffalo and $1 million for a four year private university in the Bronx.
Mr Latham says that the debate is an example of “the kind of ideological nonsense” that can be “the straw that stirs the drink”.
“School choice advocates say, ‘If we can’t get them to eat a little more, we can afford to subsidise them.’
That’s nonsense,” he said.
It’s a financial assistance for low and moderate income families.” “
A voucher is not a food stamp.
It’s a financial assistance for low and moderate income families.”
For the ABC’s Breakfast program, Mark Lathar has been listening to the debate from New Jersey.
Listen on ABC TV, ABC News Online and ABC NewsRadio.