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ArlingtonEducationNo 'free lunch'? Arlington school system wants that changed

No ‘free lunch’? Arlington school system wants that changed

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The phrase “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” may remain a truism economically if not necessarily politically, but the Arlington School Board is hoping to get somebody else to pay for student meals.

As part of its 2023 General Assembly legislative-priorities package to be voted on Dec. 1, School Board members are backing a proposal to provide “universal free meals at schools” for all public-school students in Virginia.

With the exception of a period during the pandemic, parents have been expected to pay for meals provided to students, unless families qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

At the state level, the current split in political power (Democrats in charge of the state Senate, Republicans leading the House of Delegates and executive branch), it seems such a measure would be unlikely to make it through the 2023 legislative meat-grinder, which starts in early January and is slated to run for 45 days.

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Given the division of power in the General Assembly, it would seem equally unlikely that progressive-leaning School Boards such as that in Arlington will see much of their policy priorities enacted in the coming year.

Should Republicans maintain control of the House of Delegates and win control of the state Senate in next year’s elections, 2024 could bring a major rollback in policies enacted during the brief period before 2022 when Democrats held control of the legislative and executive branches in Virginia.

At the federal level, it’s always possible that Congress – which apparently has given up any plan for ever paying back the trillions in accumulated federal debt but instead is adding to it on a daily basis – may decide to provide funding for a national free-meals program. But with that body also facing a political split for the next two years at least, it would seem an unlikely proposition, as well.

For those with an historical bent, the phrase “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” – with the rather unwieldy acronym “TANSTAAFL” – originated in the national lexicon in the 1930s and gained broader popularity based on its use in Robert Heinlein’s 1966 science-fiction novel “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.”

The phrase relates to the fact that bars would offer patrons free lunches – usually of salty foods such as cheese, ham and crackers – in order to get them to drink more alcohol, which over the long run generated far more in profits than the meals cost them.

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