School meals hit hurdle in South Gyeongsang
Local authorities in South Gyeongsang threw their support behind the provincial government yesterday following its announcement that it will stop funding free school meals starting next year.
So far, the local governments of Yangsan, Uiryeong, Hadong, Changnyeong, Hamyang, Sachoen, Haman and Hapcheon have endorsed the South Gyeongsang provincial government, affirming in a string of press releases and news conferences that they would not set aside budget for free school meals.
“We don’t understand why the South Gyeongsang Office of Education is opposed to the provincial government’s inspection when they are providing free school meals with money from the provincial and municipal governments,” said a Yangsan official. “We will consider excluding free school meals from the budget for next year.”
The movement follows a monthlong dispute between the South Gyeongsang Office of Education and the provincial government, which spent 32.9 billion won ($30.5 million) - about a quarter of its entire budget - on free schools meal this year.
The education authority turned down the request in mid-October by the government for an inspection of 90 of the area’s 748 elementary, middle and high schools that receive funding for free meals.
The education office defended its decision, however, arguing that the provincial government and the education office are two equal and independent authorities and that the inspection went against courtesy.
South Gyeongsang Governor Hong Joon-pyo stated in a press conference on Monday that the provincial government would not set aside funds for free school meals unless the education office accepted the inspection.
“There is no budget without an inspection,” he said. “If we don’t budget in free school meals, we will support local governments in helping the marginalized and impoverished.”
Initially, 128.5 billion won was planned to be spent next year to provide meals to 286,000 students across 748 South Gyeongsang schools. Of that, 25.7 billion would come from the provincial government; 38.5 billion won from municipal governments; and 64.3 billion won from the education office.
The education authority estimates that 219,000 of those students will be excluded from free meals if local governments refuse to work it into the budget next year.
BY KIM BONG MOON, WE SUNG-WOOK [firstname.lastname@example.org]