Most local gov’ts plan free lunches

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Most local gov’ts plan free lunches

Elementary students in most cities can expect to get free lunches starting early next year.

That’s because the regional heads from the main opposition party who took office after the June 2 elections are pushing forward the hotly debated proposition.

However, the situation is much different in Seoul, Gyeonggi and Busan ? where more than half of elementary students reside: Officials are still considering the issue.

According to a JoongAng Ilbo survey, 11 out of 16 cities and provinces in Korea are planning to provide free lunches to elementary school students.

Free lunch was a popular campaign pledge in the recent regional elections.

The regions that have decided to provide free lunches are: Incheon, Daejeon, south and north Chungcheong, Gangwon, Gwangju, south and north Jeolla, south and north Gyeongsang, and Jeju Island.

According to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, there are currently 1.73 million elementary students in the 11 regions.

Provided that each meal costs 1,700 won ($1.50), the ministry has calculated that it will cost 530 billion won a year for the students to receive free lunches.

Gwangju appears to be the first region to provide all elementary school students with free lunches.

The educational office in Gwangju initially set a budget of 16.3 billion won to start the free lunch policy starting the second school term of 2010 for students in the first, second and sixth grades.

But the regional school superintendent requested an additional 2.4 billion won in supplementary funding from the city council to pay for the rest of the students, so now all the students can look forward to free lunches.

Seoul officials are still debating the issue ? school superintendent Kwak No-hyun and the Seoul Metropolitan Council want to spend 227 billion won ($195 million) to provide free lunches for all 590,000 elementary school students in the city. But Mayor Oh Se-hoon opposes the plan.

Oh believes that only students in the bottom 30 percent of the income class should receive free lunches.

Parents of elementary students in Daegu and Ulsan should not get their hopes up, either.

The city government in Daegu is firm that just 40 percent of its elementary students should be provided with free lunches by 2014.

Ulsan has also decided that free lunches will be given out to students from the bottom 30 percent of the city’s income scale or farmland regions.

By Chang Chung-hoon []
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