Gyeongsang to end free school meal program

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Gyeongsang to end free school meal program

The local education authority in South Gyeongsang announced Monday that it will stop serving free school meals starting next month due to a lack of funding, a decision that makes the province the first to withdraw it.

As it stands, 219,000 elementary, middle and high school students will now be excluded from free meals. However, low-income students will not be influenced by the change.

Since last year, the program had been a source of discord between the South Gyeongsang Office of Education and the provincial Governor Hong Joon-pyo.

Hong announced that the local government would stop funding the program after the education office refused an inspection requested by the government that targeted 90 schools receiving financial aid for free meals.

The education office turned down the request, arguing that the local government and the education office were equal but independent authorities, and that the inspection went against common courtesy.

According to the education authority, out of 112.5 billion won ($100 million) allotted for the program this year, the education office secured 48.2 billion won, but was not given the additional 64.3 billion won from the provincial government and local authorities.

Moreover, only 17.1 billion won of the secured budget was available due to the office’s obligation to fund students from low-income families for their meals. According to the education office, the 17.1 billion won will be spent by March.

Instead of free meals, the provincial government and authorities plan to give financial aid to low-income students, including 64.3 billion won to be used on books and online lecture vouchers. The proposal is set to be discussed at the provincial council’s plenary session scheduled to take place from March 12 to 19. If passed, the plan will go into force around mid-April.

The controversy over ending the free school meals program has been met with fierce opposition. Last month, a group of about 200 parents and civic organizations requested a referendum on the issue, which was turned down. It has since filed a lawsuit against the local government.

BY WE SUNG-WOOK [nam.yoonseo@joongang.co.kr]

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