GOP Congressman Thinks Poor Kids Should Work for 'Free' School Lunch

Jack Kingston says students should pay a small fee or sweep floors to earn their food.

Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga. (Photo: By Bill Clark/Roll Call/Getty Images)

Dec 19, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

According to data from the 2012 Census, Georgia has the sixth-highest child poverty rate in the country. Yet rather than discussing how to help the more than 1 in 4 children living under the poverty line in the state, Rep. Jack Kingston, a candidate in the Republican primary to replace retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss, is more concerned with cutting free lunch programs in public schools.

Speaking at a meeting of the Jackson County Republican Party, Kingston told the audience, “But one of the things I’ve talked to the secretary of agriculture about: Why don’t you have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel, to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch?”

The congressman is so concerned that students grasp the concepts of free-market economics, à la Milton Friedman, that he would take the situation a step further, asking kids to work for a meal—never mind that information retention plummets when students are underfed.

Instead of paying pocket change, Kingston alternatively suggested, “Or maybe sweep the floor of the cafeteria—and yes, I understand that that would be an administrative problem, and I understand that it would probably lose you money. But think what we would gain as a society in getting people—getting the myth out of their head that there is such a thing as a free lunch.”

For students to be eligible for Georgia’s school breakfast and lunch program, a family of four must make less than $43,568 per year before taxes. The state was also part of a pilot federal program this year that, in Atlanta, provided 25,000 students with free breakfast and lunch on school days. The federal program kicks in when more than 40 percent of students at any given school are on the state program; more than half of 100 public schools in Atlanta were eligible this year.

Which means that if Kingston gets elected and brings his no-free-lunch plan to bear, the schools in Atlanta—and throughout the state—will gleam.