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Free school lunches for all W.Va. students?

State Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, has made what is easily the worst proposal in this year's Legislature: Have the state provide free school lunches and breakfasts to every child in the state regardless of ability to pay.

Goodbye, personal responsibility. Hello, collectivism.

The plan likely 1) would not improve academic performance, and 2) would lead to more children who are more dependent on the state.

So economically degraded is West Virginia's population that 53 percent of its children qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

But only 36 percent participated in the breakfast program last year, a discrepancy the Associated Press said was due to how meals are delivered and the stigma of accepting free meals.

As Unger does now, proponents of this program have said all along that feeding kids would help them learn. That has not happened.

More than 35 percent of children in West Virginia are either overweight or obese, pushing the state into the Top Eight states in childhood obesity, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But the state ranks near or at the bottom in academic achievement.

Indeed, the high percentage of children receiving free or reduced lunches often is cited as an excuse for the poor performance of a school.

Instead of figuring out how to make this program work as advertised, Unger wants to expand it to include the 47 percent of students whose parents now pay the full bill for feeding them.

That would include the children of people who are perfectly capable of feeding their offspring.

The bill estimates that a 30 percent increase in breakfast participation and a 10 percent increase in lunch participation would ring down $13 million in federal funds - this from a government with a $16 trillion debt.

Students would not only be given breakfast and lunch, but snacks to take home as well.

Unger said the state would not have to pay for all this food. The federal government would pay the bulk of the cost, with local philanthropists and organizations footing the state's portion of the bill.

But parents, not the government, should be feeding their children.

Most voters would feed children who would otherwise go hungry. But pick up, as federal taxpayers, the tab for those who would not?

That will be a harder sell - and should be.

It's the job of parents to raise children who are self-reliant, not dependent on crumbs from the government.



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