Students in Stewartville, Minnesota, are getting a bonus education in American-style capitalism.
The public schools system in that southeastern town (population about 6,000) is offering this economic lesson free of charge -- which is great for these kids, because they're already in debt, and as they're learning, the schools there are not about to forgive them.
Under a new school meals plan program approved by the Stewartville School Board last month, students who fall behind on payments are denied lunch until they make good on their payments. As one mom told KTTC TV station, the school's stingy behavior comes with an added dose of humiliation, which administrators might have cooked up after watching mob movies.
If a student is discovered to have a "balance of negative-one-cent or below," the woman says, the cashier at the school cafeteria is instructed to take the student's lunch tray, "scoop the food off ...dump it into a bucket ... and they place a sandwich on their plate."
This alternative "meal" comes with a $1 charge to the student's acccount. According to Stewartville Public Schools Superintendent Belinda Selfors, the offering meets the exacting nutritional standards of the USDA.
On its face, the policy sounds not just harsh, but foolish: If the school's putting a lunch on the tray and then throwing it out, it's not saving any money; if it's then replacing the hot lunch with a sandwich, the school's actually spending even more. The only reason to do it this way is to punish the children, who should've thought twice before they attended public school without first getting a part-time job.
"The purpose of persecution is persecution." That, students, is from a book called 1984. Someday you'll read it, though its more complex themes are difficult to understand on an empty stomach.
According to the concerned mom/whistleblower, the potential for embarrassment is causing some Stewartville students to skip the lunch line altogether.
The draconian policy was enacted when the school district decided there was simply too much debt among students at its four public schools. How much? $10,000. In a school district with a $25 million budget.
Not that the school district has to pay for stuff upfront, like it expects its students to: According to its most recent budget, Stewartville Public Schools District has $31.7 million worth of outstanding long-term debt.
Consider that another lesson in American economics, kids. If you have a small amount of debt, prepare for punishment and daily humiliation. If you have a huge amount of debt, you refer to it as a "line of credit," and you hire a team of people to tell the public it's part of a long-term strategic plan.
After that KTTC story aired, so many parents contacted the school board that Selfors responded with a mass text message, saying the district is "reviewing our procedures to ensure that all students are treated with dignity and respect."
Note that she did not say all students are going to be treated to what they actually want: lunch. Meanwhile, multiple grassroots efforts have sprung up to pay down the student debt, including a GoFundMe page, which had, as of Monday morning, collected $2,600 toward a $20,000 fundraising goal.