Universal school meals a $27 million annual tax levy for the Education Fund


The current $27 million/year program is about to be made permanent in Vermont, in the name of “equity” — but is it equitable?

A statutorily-mandated Agency of Education report dated January 16, 2023 titled “Impact And Implementation of the Universal School Meals Act Report” projects the provision of universal school meals (USM) to Vermont schoolchildren will cost approximately $27 million for FY 2023.

Another Report is mandated for February by the Vermont Legislative Joint Fiscal Office, which will “examin[e] possible revenue sources not ordinarily used for General Fund purposes for long-term funding of a statewide USM program.” The money is spent; now the State will decide where to extract it.

The move to foist this massive tax bill on Vermonters was initially represented to have a $4 million annual price tag:

An early estimate pegs the cost to the state’s education fund at about $4 million a year, according to Sen. Debbie Ingram, D-Chittenden, who is sponsoring the legislation. … Vermont would be the first in the nation to enact such a mandate, according to Hunger Free Vermont, which is championing the universal meals effort. Ingram acknowledged the bill, as written, would put some upward pressure on property taxes. But she said that the estimated cost, in the context of the state’s $1.7 billion education fund, was “incredibly reasonable.”

Proponents for a permanent $27 million/year plan do not claim that estimated cost is “incredibly reasonable.” Vermont already pays some of the highest per pupil education costs in the country relative to income — making universal school meal expenditures permanent will increase that distinction.

The push to implement costly universal meals (for breakfast and lunch) without regard to income has been led by a well-organized group of progressive NGOs including Hunger Free Vermont (HFV) and The Vermont Public Health Organization (VPHO). The provision of USM is counter to longstanding federal policies that link provision to need. The current $27 million/year program is about to be made permanent in Vermont, in the name of “equity” — but is it equitable?

Free meals for children of Vermonters who are very wealthy is regressive and transfers money unfairly to those who least merit the assistance. This is not only “inequitable,” but makes folly of the Marxist maxim “from each according to his ability; to each according to his needs.” This hypocrisy is repeated when the tax man cometh: it is expected that this new $27 million annual tax levy will be added to Vermont’s Education Fund, increasing real estate taxes for many elderly and low-income residents.

HFV and VPHO strongly advocate for increased spending with zero accountability for this upside-down accounting. But these entities claim they are achieving “social justice” by expanding spending on dubious food. VPHO cites the CDC, WHO, and United Nations in support of USM:

The United Nations (UN) and WHO note that school meal programs may act as “springboards” for transforming countries’ food systems by incorporating locally grown food products and energizing local economies (WHO, 2021).

It does not energize, but saps, the local economy to tax it another $29 million annually. Yet advocates rationalize the expenditures by arguing the opposite. VPHO claims:

Taken in the context of a cost-benefit analysis, the Universal School Meal Act in Vermont, estimated to cost $29 million for the 2022-2023 school year, could produce a net economic and health benefit of almost $60 million in Vermont in one year alone.

There is no discussion of where the $29 million will come from, and it is highly doubtful that the $60 million “net economic and health benefit” is net of that $29 million — which would require “total” economic and health benefits of $89 million. Yet VPHO is very vocal about its mission toward “equity”:

We recognize the long history of genocide and land theft used to create what we know as the State of Vermont, as part of the United States of America. At VtPHA, we seek to combat systemic racism, in part by ongoing education and modeling vulnerability. We accept that decolonization and antiracism are inseparably connected and that the process of healing will take time, energy and a willingness to change.

VPHA is modeling invulnerability … to mathematical logic and economics. Basic tax policy requires that the cause and effect of spending and taxation are fully analyzed — in this case, the potential negative if unintended consequences of taxing already-strapped retirees and low income property owners who will bear the full cost of this vaunted USM lunch-box-for-Richie-Rich social justice extravaganza. One wonders whether deliberately extracting wealth from old white people is the plan.

One web site by Hunger Free Vermont titled Universal School Meals claims:

We have an opportunity to make permanent a stronger, more equitable school meal program. Let’s make sure that universal School Meals are permanently funded through the Education Fund so that no student has to learn what hunger feels like while at school.

There is no consideration of what silent hunger a 90-year-old Vermont Social Security recipient must learn to feel at home alone. Or whether a young working couple with kids getting free lunches at school who would have qualified under existing federal guidelines for SNAP now must face an even greater hurdle to own their own modest home, because real estate taxes have climbed to provide free meals to wealthier children.

This does not sound like a stronger, more equitable meal program. It sounds like tax-and-spend inflation in a state where housing is already extremely rare and costly. Research shows having a place of shelter in Vermont winters yields economic benefits in health and employment. Perhaps some Vermont NGOs are working to solve this economic housing crisis — with free housing for all, to boost the economy. After they create the housing benefits, they can decide who to make pay for it.

As Milton Friedman wrote: There are severe limits to the good that the government can do for the economy, but there are almost no limits to the harm it can do.

John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield. © Copyright True North Reports 2023. All rights reserved.

Image courtesy of USDA

11 thoughts on “Universal school meals a $27 million annual tax levy for the Education Fund

  1. What’s with the Marxism rant? I’m rich, why can’t my tax dollars go towards my kids having school lunch? Also, studies show that schools that provide universal lunches have better outcomes, so why wouldn’t I want my tax dollars contributing to better outcomes for all students. You might have made a point if you didn’t always write with a chip on your shoulder.

    • I thought I made the point pretty well — this transfers money from the poor to the rich, the opposite of what you rant about. Did you even read the article?

  2. So now we are worried about an increase of $27M to the Ed Fund to ensure that all students are ready to learn w/o any discrimination?

    There are approx. 4000 students who are in private or religious schools’ w/o any public $ following.

    Are you aware that if Universal School Choice were approved, it would ADD $40M ($10K Voucher), $60M (15K Voucher), or $80M (20K Voucher) to the Ed Fund expenditures?

  3. Is Free Lunch the same as Affordable Heat standard? Are the meals still uneatable trays of slop the kids don’t eat? How’s the organic farms failing if their food is mandatory in the “free lunch”? So many questions and no answers on the need for this program. The poor get wick subsidies so bring the poor into the argument.

  4. This is another money grab by the education institutions. Does this also mean that we feed the
    adult population in the schools under this “FREE LUNCH” program. Who is this free lunch free for..
    certainly not the taxpayers. How does the cost go from Ingrams $4M to $27M? Her math leaves a lot to be desired. No wonder spending is out of control. Does this FREE include
    breakfast, snacks, lunch, snacks and a takeout to go home? Does it include door dash for dinner?
    Feeding children is a parent’s responsibility. I support helping the families who need help but the rest of us should be able to pack a lunch or buy a lunch. By the time this is over the education system will have your child from birth to 18, feed them, provide guidance that parents should be doing and insist that they know what is best for your child. Is this the world you want?
    The state destroyed daycare as we knew it. Moms and grandmoms no longer have a small business in their loving homes for the neighborhood kids because the state got involved, made it impossible for stay-at-home moms to do daycare and now the state claims their program needs to be overhauled because it is not working. I predict that daycare will next be in your local school building as part of the education system. That will mean new school buildings or additions. We are already seeing a call for new buildings across the state since the BHS PCB debacle.
    What does this tell us?

  5. It sounds like a nice idea, but half the time the kids don’t like the school lunches and waste half of it. At least if they bring the remains of their “lunch box” back home, the parent may be able to monitor what they are eating. Also, the kids that need to be pulled from school because of bullying, or other issues, don’t reap the same benefits. You are paying for the bullies to have free meals, while the parents of the homeschooled kids are paying for their own.

  6. How much does it cost a parent to make a regular sandwich versus the cost to taxpayers to have it served “for free” in our schools? My parents were poor, but they managed to feed their three kids.

  7. I made it through seventh grade taking my lunch to school in a lunch box with a vacuum bottle clipped into the top. I survived anyway. We got a “lunch room” in the fifth grade. At lunch time. It just meant you ate there. The rest of the time, it was the auditorium. Before that, at your desk. It worked O.K. then.

  8. Don’t rely on the government run schools to feed your kids with their breadlines. For those that cant afford to, this option should be available, as it always has. But for those that can afford to feed their children they should take pride in doing so whether its packing a lunch or buying lunch tickets. Otherwise you are taking part in normalizing government dependency on your children and all of our society. Remember, a government big enough to provide you with everything you need is a government big enough to take everything you have.

  9. Given the communists never ending desire to indoctrinate America ‘ s youth in socialism what a great way to turn them into vegans. Hopefully this program is optional.

    • And with your comment, you hit the nail on the head. This isn’t about the meal, it’s about whom is providing the meal. “Universal” doesn’t mean optional and this appears more a program to indoctrinate the idea that government provides meals, not Mom and Dad.
      Give it two decades, and it cements the socialist aspect of “government provides” forever.
      It seems akin to removing one more leg from the family stool- making the family unstable- with “government” providing “essentials”. Until government decides to stop.

Comments are closed.