Federal Government Subsidizes Halal Food in Public Schools

Government Funds Used to Pay a Premium for Halal Food

Beginning with the 2014-15 school year, the federal government pays for free lunches for all students (i.e., free to students, paid for by the federal government) at a school if more than 40% of its students come from low-income homes.

Crawford qualifies for free lunches for all students, according to Loy.

Dearborn declined to provide details about the number and percentage of its students participating in the federal lunch program, but as of 2011, approximately 60% of its students qualified for federal help. A number of Dearborn schools, if not the whole district, likely qualify for lunches free to all students courtesy of the federal government under the new federal policy. In any case, it receives millions of federal dollars each year for free and reduced-price lunches.

Crestwood (Dearborn Heights) also declined to provide information, but data suggest Crestwood also meets the 40% threshold for universal access to free lunches. As of 2009-10, 46% of Crestwood High School’s 1,260 students received subsidized lunches, and as of 2014, 62% of them did.

Halal meat costs more than non-halal meat. Asked about the Dearborn program’s cost, Mustonen responded only, “Any increase in cost is off-set by an increase in revenue.” He provided no details, and the source of the increased revenue is unexplained.

Reportedly, halal meals for the Dearborn program cost the district 20%-30% more per meal than equivalent non-halal meals. Significant dollars are involved: the Dearborn school district contracted to pay $228,000 for halal meat. The time period covered by the contract was not provided.

Neither San Diego nor Crestwood (Dearborn Heights) school district responded to inquiries on the respective program’s cost or any other issue.

Before beginning its pilot program, the San Diego school district reportedly spent “$16 million a year on 22 million meals for students, but adding a halal menu could be a considerable extra cost…  the meat is a bit pricey because it is considered hard to come by.” A later story about the San Diego halal program mentioned increased cost only in the context of the food being organic, not in the context of it being halal.  It gave no specifics, other than stating organic drumsticks cost “a few extra cents.” Like Mustonen, Gary Petill, food services director of San Diego Unified School District, stated that increased participation -- paid for by the federal government -- covered the increased cost.

Demand for school lunches at Crawford has increased by about 300 meals (it is unclear whether that figure represents the additional number of meals per week, or the number of additional students participating in the twice-weekly halal lunch option), the cost of which is borne by the federal government, not by parents or students.  Not all additional participants are Muslim; the breakdown of Muslim as compared to non-Muslim new participants is not known.

Crestwood (Dearborn Heights) food service director Lori Squire did not respond to an inquiry for this article but has reportedly said a maximum of 20% of students who buy their meals opt for the halal chicken patty option. It is unclear to what extent federal funds subsidize those lunches.

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To sum up, three American school districts are providing Muslim students with food meeting their religious requirements. Dearborn is not doing the same for students of other religions, such as Jews. San Diego and Dearborn Heights ignored questions about how students of other religions are treated.  New York City and state are considering legislation that would require schools to provide halal food but not food meeting any other religious requirements. The halal food costs more than comparable non-religiously prescribed food. It is paid for in part or in whole with millions of dollars in federal funds.

In effect, Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, and San Diego appear to have established Islam as an official religion, whose rituals are endorsed by the government and paid for with public funds. New York City and New York state may join them. Other religions, such as Judaism, are unrecognized. It may be halal, but it sure doesn’t sound kosher.