Free meals for students adds to budget increase

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Free meals for students adds to budget increase

One item stands out in next year’s school budget proposal released by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education - money earmarked for free education, including free lunches, which skyrocketed by 376.7 percent, from the current 52.2 billion won ($46.8 million) to 249 billion won, according to the education office.

The projected education budget comes to 6.61 trillion won for 2011, a 4.7 percent on-year increase over this year. The education office held an information session yesterday to explain its budget plan.

The main reason for the budget increase comes from about 116 billion won allocated to make free lunches available for three grades in elementary schools, starting next year.

The education office expects to support 50 percent of lunches for lower-grade primary school students on the assumption that the Seoul Metropolitan Council will shoulder 50 percent of the projected budget.

The number of free lunches could be increased if the office receives additional funding from Seoul City Government, because the education office has discretion in how it allocates its budget. However, the education office said that if the agreement with the city council cannot be agreed upon, the office would try to figure out a way to reassign funding within its budget.

The office said it assigned 24.5 billion won for school operating aid, 42.5 billion won for free education at specialized schools and 13.8 billion won for free school supplies at elementary and middle schools.

Concerns have been rising over the cost of offering free lunches, in that money to improve education and subsidies for low-income students will be shrunk as a result. To assuage those fears, the aid for low-income students program has been increased in the budget.

The education welfare special aids program for students of underdeveloped regions was increased from 33.9 billion won to 43.5 billion won, a 28.3 percent increase. The preschooler education expense for low-income, middle-class and multi-children families has risen 51.4 percent, from 49.5 billion won to 75 billion won.

The budget for improving school facilities has been cut by 27.1 percent, from 683.5 billion won this year to 498.5 billion won. The education office will submit a plan to the Seoul City Council on Wednesday.

By Yoo Sun-young []
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