The Evil of Means-Testing

by Will on October 25, 2010

Good article about the school lunch program in France, which I can attest is really, really good, having spent a year eating those school lunches every day:

The French program is also “universal”: virtually all students eat the school-provided lunch, and families pay “what they can afford.” I would argue that it’s the universal nature of the benefit that keeps the quality high, since everyone has a stake in the program: it’s not perceived as just serving the poor or — even worse it seems, if Post comments are representative — minorities.

To some extent, the better food in the French schools reflects the peculiar aesthetic sentiments of French people: even McDonalds food in France is not so bad. But I’ll posit that if the French stopped providing free lunches to all students, the quality would nonetheless decline.

Now, I’ve more recently worked in American schools in an urban district. I’ve never once bought a school lunch, because they’re simply awful: both distasteful and unhealthy. The better-off students bring lunches from home rather than buying the school lunch, just as I do. So the only people who will complain about the low quality of the food are poor people who are less likely to have influence on those who could make a change.  By just spending  more money to provide school lunches for free to anyone, we would ensure a much more efficient and high-quality program.

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