Free meals for six territories’ schools

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Free meals for six territories’ schools

Five provinces and one metropolitan city will start offering free lunches in elementary schools starting spring semester next year, going against the objections of the central government, which says free lunches should be limited to students from poorer families.

The JoongAng Ilbo recently surveyed 16 provincial-level governments about their policies on free school lunches and found that six of them - Gyeonggi, South Chungcheong, North Chungcheong, North Jeolla, Jeju and Gwangju Metropolitan City - allocated budgets for free school lunches to elementary school students next year. The opposition Democratic Party holds a majority in all six of the local legislatures. Free school lunches in public schools was a popular opposition campaign pledge in last June’s local elections.

South Chungcheong Governor An Hee-jung and South Chungcheong education office chief Kim Jong-sung signed a memorandum of understanding on Dec. 15 to provide free lunches to public elementary schools in the province starting next year, gradually extending the program to middle schools. The South Chungcheong provincial government estimates that more than 138,784 elementary students from 420 schools will benefit.

Gyeonggi Governor Kim Moon-soo of the GNP conceded on Dec. 15 to demands by the DP-controlled Gyeonggi Provincial Council to start free meals in elementary schools next year on the condition that he wouldn’t cut budgets for Gyeonggi’s key projects.

The province’s budget for meals will be raised to 40 billion won ($35,000) from the current 5.8 billion won. In Gwangju, the city government already pays for meals for students from first to third grade. Next year, the Gwangju Metropolitan Office of Education will extend the program through the sixth grade. Jeju Island’s autonomous government decided to offer free meals not only to elementary students but also to kindergarten kids for the first time.

By Kim Mi-ju, Lee Chan-ho []
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