Holt Trolls Johnson on Student Loans; The Daily Caller Trolls Michelle Obama and School Lunches; Turtle Porn

This guest blogpost is by Kevin Kosar, author of Failing Grades: The Federal Politics of Education, who edits the Federal Education Policy History website and is a senior fellow at the R Street Institute.

Maybe it is a sign that the Johnson-Weld ticket is serious—or possibly a writer was looking for something to troll. Either way, Johnson gets assailed by Alexander Holt in the Washington Monthly. “Gary Johnson is very confused about student loans” tries to make Johnson look like a policy boob. Granted, Johnson’s appearance on Samantha Bee’s show seemed less than presidential—but Holt strains to score points.

Holt: “Johnson is deeply confused about higher education policy. He believes that the reason college costs are so high is because of the “guaranteed government student loans.”

Reader: “OMG!”

Holt: “Linking college costs to federal aid is not a fringe theory—it’s called the Bennett hypothesis, named after Ronald Reagan’s education secretary, and there’s some evidence that federal student loans may lead to increased tuition….”

Reader: “Huh. So what’s the problem?”

Holt: “But what’s worrying about Johnson’s statement is that he called federal student loans ‘guaranteed.’ That word has a very particular meaning in federal student loan policy, and it refers to a program that was abolished in 2010.”

Reader: “Oh, I see, so loans are not guaranteed in any way?”

Holt: “Granted, new federal loans are still ‘guaranteed’ by the government, but that’s a very strange word to use in light of the program’s history…”

Moving right along to further excellence in journalism…

This year is the 70th anniversary of the school lunch program. Imperfect though it is, we’re the better for it. Before it arrived, many children suffered from stunted growth and various afflictions due to insufficient vitamins and calories. Now America has too many kids who are overweight. More gym classes and time outside would certainly help redress the balance. So too would less junk food and screen-time at home.

But why bother talking sensibly about school food programs and kids’ health—derp is so much easier. “Gov’t Study Finds Michelle Obama’s School Lunches Are Making Kids Fat.,” says the Daily Caller. Yes, it is true that a study by Prof. Wen You of Virginia Tech finds that participation in free and reduced rate school meals is a factor affecting the likelihood of a child becoming very overweight.

But the piece makes a hash of things by blaming Michelle Obama and misframing the subject. As I noted some months ago in Politico, the School Lunch program always has struggled to balance the goals of farm interests and the nutritional well-being of children. The law is internally riven between two competing goals.

“It is hereby declared to be the policy of Congress, as a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities and other food.”

When the program was first launched, much of the aid it provided was surplus foodstuffs—meaning one month school cafeterias might be serving lots of eggs and onions one month and piles of almonds and apricots the next month. These days, most school lunch aid is delivered in the form of cash, which can be used to purchase foodstuffs that meet the program’s nutritional objectives.

The First Lady, as a matter of fact, has been a force for toughing nutrition standards to reduce kids’ salt, sugar, and fat intake and up their ingestion of whole grains—so much so that this year’s reauthorizations of the school lunch law aim to push back against the tougher meal standards. Media and politicos on the right savaged Mrs. Obama for substituting her highfalutin’ foodie meals for good, old ‘merican chow. (Ted Cruz promised more French fries for kids.)

And to call the $13 billion a year program “Michelle Obama’s school lunch program,” as Andrew Follett does, is wildly inaccurate. The Richard B. Russell School Lunch Act has been around since 1946, and Congress—not the White House—is mostly responsible for its structure and offerings. Congress writes the law. USDA, on its own initiative or at the behest of a president —or first lady— can write regs to adjust the program—but not by much.

♫ Derp to the left of me; derp to the right; here I am stuck in the middle with you. ♫

I will go fishing for Stripers on Wednesday morning. In the meantime, here is a photo of a snapping turtle my daughter Anna located in a pond in East Hampton.

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