The usually mundane issue of school lunch funding has turned into a Florida political firestorm, with Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried denouncing comments from Gov. Ron DeSantis she calls “perverted and deeply inappropriate.”
On Thursday, Fried denounced the “deranged” DeSantis for “lies” about the federal school lunch program. This came a day after DeSantis claimed the Joe Biden administration sought to “take lunch money from poor kids” at a press conference in Brevard County.
“Gov. DeSantis is the deranged one for using hungry kids in this political stunt. He is lying. Period,” Fried claimed.
“The National School Lunch Program has nothing to do with bathrooms, locker rooms or sports. Our department passed on nondiscrimination guidelines from the federal government — which only apply to the lunch line — saying that children can’t be discriminated against by being denied meals at school. That’s it. Nothing else. If he really cared so much about feeding kids, he would have applied for available federal supplemental child nutrition funding — which I’ve been calling on him to do for months. Now that’s deranged.”
The Commissioner then claimed DeSantis’ position was driven by political considerations.
“For Gov. DeSantis, this isn’t about the well-being of kids in Florida — it’s just another culture war for him to wage to score political points to run for President. The only people who are inappropriately imposing sexuality in schools are Republicans who seem to be obsessed with which bathrooms kids are using. It’s perverted and deeply inappropriate,” Fried asserted.
“Gov. DeSantis should be ashamed of himself and parents should be concerned about why he and his administration seem to be intent on sexualizing every aspect of schooling in Florida.”
Florida Politics shared Fried’s quote with the Governor’s Office, and the Department of Education offered a denunciation of the Commissioner’s “false and desperate attempt to call attention to her political agenda.”
“Commissioner Fried threatened to remove Florida’s most vulnerable students from the National School Lunch Program if our schools do not accept the Biden Administration’s radical gender ideology. We will not allow our children to be used as bargaining chips for individuals who are motivated by self-interest rather than the health and safety of all students,” asserted spokesperson Alex Lanfranconi.
This back and forth comes after DeSantis’ well-publicized remarks on the matter.
On Wednesday in Rockledge, DeSantis spotlighted the state’s ban on transgender athletes in amateur women’s sports as something generally understood as the “proper thing to do” that the Biden White House targeted nonetheless.
“Biden is now threatening to penalize states that have taken basic commonsense actions like just recognizing the importance of women’s sports,” DeSantis claimed.
DeSantis then pointed to a policy from the U.S. Department of Agriculture tying its programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), to compliance with Title IX protections that extend to matters of sexual orientation and gender identity. So far, however, the USDA has not explicitly threatened to revoke any funding. But several states have sued over the policy shift.
“They’re threatening to take away lunch money from poor kids as punishment from us protecting women’s sports. Think about how deranged that is,” DeSantis fumed. “They’re so intent on destroying the competition of women’s athletics that they’re going to use school lunch money for poor kids as a cudgel to try to get us to submit to what they want.”
The USDA has defended its anti-discrimination policies, meanwhile.
“USDA is committed to administering all its programs with equity and fairness, and serving those in need with the highest dignity. A key step in advancing these principles is rooting out discrimination in any form — including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in May.
Commissioner Diaz issued a memo in late July stressing that these are mere guidelines and not “binding law or enforceable,” meanwhile.