In school meal debate, no leeway

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In school meal debate, no leeway

Gyeonggi Governor Nam Kyung-pil yesterday refused to accept the Gyeonggi Office of Education’s suggestion that the provincial government pay 30 percent of the budget to provide free meals in local schools.

“I will keep the current policy because the previous governor and the Gyeonggi Provincial Assembly agreed on it without conflict,” Nam said at a Gyeonggi assembly meeting.

The Gyeonggi provincial office is now indirectly supporting schools that are using organic products in school meals. Gyeonggi Superintendent Lee Jae-jeong has criticized the fact that the provincial office did not pay for free school meals at a time when other local governments have set aside a portion of their budgets to support the policy.

Nam’s comment yesterday follows a decision from the South Gyeongsang provincial government, which decided earlier this week not to set aside funds for free school meals starting next year after the South Gyeongsang Office of Education refused to conduct an inspection on schools receiving subsidies for the meals.

On Monday, South Gyeongsang Governor Hong Joon-pyo stressed during a press conference that there would be no budget without an inspection.

Its provincial government has spent 32.9 billion won ($30.5 million) on free school meals this year, which adds up to about a quarter of its entire budget.

The South Gyeongsang Office of Education responded to that decision yesterday.

“[Hong] only seems to be trying to stop support for the free school meal policy,” said South Gyeongsang Superintendent Park Jong-hun. “His behavior only raises suspicion that he is using the free school meal policy for political purposes. Inspection seems to be just an excuse to stop their support.”

“We will do our best to provide free meals to local schools with our budget of 48.2 billion won until March, but the financial burden will directly fall on parents if Hong persists,” Park added. “The provincial government’s decision is self-righteous, and they are threatening the autonomy of local and education authorities, and neglecting the residents who cast votes for them.”

The education authority said that it will set up an emergency countermeasure team to pressure the provincial office, and Park made it clear that the South Gyeongsang provincial office did not have the right to conduct an unprecedented inspection, according to related laws and regulations.

The dispute over the free school meal plan is likely to develop into a power struggle between conservatives and liberals as liberal civic groups and organizations protest the provincial governments’ decision.

The Korea Teachers and Education Workers’ Union, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy recently submitted a joint letter of complaint to the Blue House and have held rallies at the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Strategy and Finance.


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