It was a daily ritual that many adults remember well:  taking your turn in the lunch line, having mashed potatoes and gravy, tater tots, and watered down string beans scooped onto your lunch tray by old ladies in white clothes and paper hats.  When you got to the cashier almost everyone paid a dollar or two, but several kids had a small paper ticket that they shyly handed the lunch lady and made their way out to the cafeteria to join everyone else for lunch.

Everyone knew the deal, that the kid with that paper ticket was from a poor family, but in most cases no one ever made a fuss about it.  A similar exercise happens in public schools today, but there is one exception:  the person getting the free or reduced price lunch is the norm, while the students paying full fare is actually in the minority.  In 2012, 42% of Colorado public school students were eligible for free or reduced priced lunch.  In Denver that number is an astonishing 71%.

How has this come to pass, when over the last two decades the nation has become remarkably more wealthy and productive?  Today, the government is paying for school lunches by the millions for children from middle class families.

But don’t think the school food handouts begin and end in the lunch line.  The government has spawned numerous other food programs connected to the public schools:  the Special Milk Program, the After School Care Snack Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, and the Summer Food Program, to name a few.  The official USDA report actually quantifies that last one as “Summer Feedings.”

It is a stretch to believe that 42% of Colorado school children are from families that need others to take responsibility for their children’s school lunches.  In fact, recent estimates show that just 18% of Colorado’s children live below the poverty line.  Yet this is a number that has been steadily on the rise, and with it, a rise in citizens who expect more and more to be handed to them from their government minders.

Unfortunately, many families are still struggling under the weight of this terrible economy.  For those who are, we say – give them a break and their kids a free lunch.  But, maybe, state handouts are doing those not living below the poverty line in Colorado a disservice by creating a culture of dependency.