Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Warner: First things first," Feb. 12, 2000

School district to students: get a free lunch so we can have ours
What price pride?A human emotion strange to the culture of entitlement is posing problems for Missouri public-school officials: Students and families eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches aren't signing up because of, well, pride. Older students believe it's "not cool" to be poor, the state finance director explained, and parents of elementary-age children don't want to be seen as unable to feed their children. But all this pride is botching up everything from test-score interpretation to school budgets. In a lengthy report published last month in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, school officials bemoaned low school-performance numbers and the loss of state funds, blaming those problems on kids and parents who prefer to feed themselves rather than receive government aid. Normandy High School principal Alvin Smith was upset that his school received an "F" in the Post-Dispatch's annual school report last year. He blamed his school's poor showing in part on not having enough school-lunch applications on file. Schools are rated according to student performance on standardized tests, but schools with lower student socioeconomic status are graded on a curve. To establish that curve, schools use the number of school-lunch program applications on file to prove the socioeconomic status of their student bodies. Mr. Smith believes his school would have received a higher grade if more families simply admitted their poverty, but also added, "We're not allowed to use poverty as an excuse." Missouri schools are eligible for an additional $1,139 in state aid for each child with a school-lunch application on file. District officials say over-proud families are causing their schools to miss out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in state money. To grab more of that cash, many schools have launched marketing efforts to increase the number of lunch-program applications. But it takes money to make money. To secure more tax dollars, schools are spending more tax dollars to encourage families to apply. Promotional activities range from school-wide mailings costing thousands to offering five entrée choices instead of three in school cafeterias. Normandy School District innovators now pry reluctant students away from their pesky pride by holding drawings for kids who have a school-lunch application on file-even if they don't qualify for a free lunch financially. Last month, six students won a portable CD player, a stereo, or a video game. When you buy it from children, pride comes cheap.

Ups & Downs of the Week

  • Interest rates: Less than a month after winning renomination to another four-year term as Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan announced that the Fed is raising interest rates again, a quarter point. The Fed hopes to battle inflation by cooling the hot economy.
  • Minimum wage: If cooling off a robust economy is a good idea, Congress stumbled upon a great idea, raising the minimum wage a buck an hour. Senate Republicans' minimum-wage bill last week assumed the hike would damage the economy; the plan included $18 billion in tax relief for small businesses forced to pay the inflated wages. Predictably, Democrats thought the tax breaks were too big and the wage hike too small.
  • In The Netherlands, an upscale bordello last week sued Amsterdam's Schiphol airport for denying it a permit to open within the airport a "relax service" establishment. The owner of the Yab Yum brothel chain filed the lawsuit to force the airport to let him open a branch by Oct. 1, when houses of prostitution become officially legal in the Netherlands. In that country, the sex industry accounts for more than $1.1 billion worth of business a year.
  • Exercise and eating habits: The World Health Organization said American students exercise less and eat more junk food than school-aged kids in many other countries. Among 15-year-old students, the United States ranked among the top three countries where kids eat sweets, chocolate, and soft drinks every day.
  • And a rotten tomato for congressional Republicans who promised to rush a citizenship bill to the floor for Elián Gonzalez. Still waiting.

NFLer arrested, Rocker suspended, Vermeil quits
Peaks and valleys
The big sports spotlight was on Kurt Warner and his teammates last week, but three other stories soon emerged. In the shadows, a few hours after the Super Bowl, Baltimore Ravens star linebacker Ray Lewis allegedly participated in the fatal stabbing of two men near an Atlanta nightclub. In an instant Mr. Lewis went from being at the top of his game to hitting one of the lowest rungs of society, and last week he was in an Atlanta jail on charges of first-degree murder rather than in Hawaii to play in the Pro Bowl, the NFL's all-star game. Last Nov. 30 Mr. Lewis was accused of punching a woman in a Baltimore bar. He said he was innocent and remarked, "The devil is busy, always after God's children. He is always trying to get you one way or another." Mr. Lewis was scheduled to be tried for that incident on Feb. 9 on a charge of second-degree assault, but that trial will be delayed. The day after the Super Bowl victory, Major League Baseball suspended hard-throwing, wild-talking pitcher John Rocker until May 1, fined him $20,000, and ordered him to undergo "sensitivity" training. The baseball players union quickly appealed that decision, particularly emphasizing the fine and suspension, which will keep Mr. Rocker, near the top of his game, out of spring training and the first month of the season. But, while baseball businessmen may be rightfully evaluating the financial cost of words that could sow racial dissension and alienate fans, the order to head to a particular type of reeducation camp seems like an overreach to those who take the First Amendment seriously. Two days after the Super Bowl victory, a small spotlight shone on St. Louis Rams coach Dick Vermeil, 63, who chose to retire at the top of his game. Mr. Vermeil led the Rams to a 16-3 record this year after going 9-23 during his first two years. A successful National Football League coach during the 1970s and early 1980s, he complained of burnout and left coaching for 15 years, then came back for not only a last hurrah but a great one. FCC backs off content regs
Changing the channel
Members of the Federal Communications Commission had heard all the static they could stand-so they changed the channel. The FCC, which regulates the broadcast airwaves, found itself embroiled in a controversy over regulating the content of broadcasts. Swamped by protests from members of Congress, religious broadcasters, church leaders, and thousands of their constituents, the FCC last week reversed a section of a Dec. 29 ruling that attempted to define and regulate religious content on some Christian-operated television stations (WORLD, Jan. 22). The commissioners voted 4-1 to vacate two paragraphs of "Additional Guidance" in that ruling. The ruling granted permission to Cornerstone Television, a Christian nonprofit in Greensburg, Pa., to acquire a station in Pittsburgh operating under an educational license. The "guidance," which would have had the force of law, spelled out examples of religious content deemed acceptable and unacceptable for fulfilling educational and cultural requirements. Only about 20 Christian broadcast firms that hold educational TV licenses would have been affected, but many religious broadcasters warned that the government action had vast implications and violated the freedom of religion and speech. Now, FCC chairman William Kennard says disputes over content quotas will continue to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. (Pressure on the FCC, dominated by Clinton appointees, to back off included threats of "a legislative remedy" by Congress and, reportedly, "advice" from Vice President Gore.) Days prior to the FCC reversal, Cornerstone-alarmed by the guidelines-announced it had canceled its complex deal to obtain Channel 16 in Pittsburgh. "No way will we proceed," a Cornerstone spokesman told WORLD. "The FCC showed its true intent. We have no assurances the government won't attempt to restrict our freedom later on."

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