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Nationwide free school meal reduces budget for school facilities
JUNE 03, 2014 04:41  
It has been revealed that the budget for the nationwide free school meal service has quadrupled since 2010 while that for the educational environment improvement including facility renovation, which affects students safety, has fallen by half during the same period.

According to the data Saenuri Party lawmaker Ahn Jong-beom received from the Ministry of Education and local education offices, the budget for free school meals surged from 563.1 billion won (about 553.4 million U.S. dollars) in 2010 to 2.62 trillion won (about 2.6 billion dollars) this year. On the other hand, the budget for the educational environment improvement was cut by half from 1.64 trillion won (about 1.6 billion dollars) in 2010 to 883.0 billion won (about 867.8 million dollars) this year.

Among cities and provinces, the ratio of the free school meal budget to the total budget was the highest in Seoul.

Seoul뭩 budget for free school meals this year amounts to 540.3 billion won (about 531.0 million dollars), 7.3 percent of the total budget of 7.44 trillion won (7.3 billion dollars). It is a 10-fold increase from 51 billion won (about 50.1 million dollars) in 2010.

Aside from Seoul, Gwangju (6.3 percent), Gyeonggi Province (6.3 percent) and South Chungcheong Province (5.3 percent) allocated a proportionately bigger amount of budget for the free school meal service. The average ratio of the free school meal budget was 5 percent nationwide.

With the expansion of the free school meal service, the budget for the educational environment improvement has decreased dramatically since 2010. Among the 16 major cities or provinces (excluding Sejong City), only Gyeonggi Province and Incheon increased their budgets for educational environment this year, compared to 2010.

In the case of Seoul, Gwangju and South Chungcheong Province whose ratio of the free meal budget to the total budget is higher than the national average, the proportion of the educational environment improvement budget was about 1.7 percent lower than the national average. This can be interpreted that it is inevitable to cut expenditure for the renovation of old school facilities in order to afford the soaring cost for free school meals.

Although there is a difference among regions, the rapid expansion of the free school meal service started when the candidates who pledged free school meals were elected as heads of local governments or superintendents during the 2010 local elections. Under these circumstances, 121 schools across the nation have received a D-grade in safety assessment and whose facilities need to be immediately fixed.

In the meantime, there is also a problem of school meal quality related to the use of cheap ingredients and food with pesticides despite parents demand for environmentally-friendly school meals.

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