Republican Senator Reignites Milkgate

Senator Tim Flakoll (R-Fargo), apparently feeling that Democrats hadn’t made enough political hay over funding for a third half-pint of milk a day for school kids, has decided to bring the issue up again by amending a House bill with an appropriation that is even larger than the one called for by Democrats.

Flakoll, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said the amendment to HB 1319 doubles the state’s contribution to the federal government’s free- and reduced-lunch program.

“For those school districts that have a milk break, they can then use these dollars to pay for these children from low-income families” to have milk or juice, or for other needs, he said. “We continue to provide local control.”

The Fargo School District would get about $1.4 million in the next biennium – about $225 per child who qualifies for the free- and reduced-lunch program – if the amendment survives when the bill becomes law, Flakoll said. The Belcourt School District would get about $570,000, he said. …

The amendment is a turnaround from early February, when a bill sponsored by Rep. Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, was defeated by a more than 2-1 margin in the House.

Boschee’s bill called for providing $1.2 million to pay for a daily milk or juice break for low-income students in kindergarten through grade three.

Politically speaking, Senator Flakoll isn’t doing his caucus any favors by dragging this issue back out of the pocket. The original legislation was a stunt put on by Democrats to give themselves a populist talking point against Republican efforts to reduce taxes. Our school kids are well-served in terms of milk and juice breaks. In fact, something you won’t hear Democrats talk about are the controversial school lunch mandates handed down by the Obama administration which left many kids hungry during the school day (something Senator John Hoeven has been working on fixing).

But more importantly, as a policy question this funding is ridiculous. In combined state and federal funding, we taxpayers are spending 84% more to feed 2% fewer children.

Here’s the graph for federal/state funding of nutrition programs in North Dakota schools (based on data obtained from Superintendent of Public Schools Kirsten Baesler). This is an 84% increase in funding:

graph

Meanwhile, though enrollment has been growing of late, it’s actually down 2% from the 2003-04 school year according to Legislative Council:

enrollment

Forget about adding more milk breaks. We need to talk about why it’s costing taxpayers so much more money to feed fewer kids.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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