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Seoul students to get free lunch by 2021

Plan will go into effect in stages, with high school seniors first
Oct 30,2018
The Seoul city government announced Monday that all elementary, middle and high school students in the city will receive free school lunch by 2021.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government, Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education and local district offices started covering the cost for lunch at public elementary schools from 2011 and expanded the funding to public and private middle schools - though international middle schools were excluded - in 2014.

“From 2021, all high schools, national and private elementary schools and international middle schools in the city will be covered,” said the city government in a statement on Monday. “That means that some 930,000 students at 1,302 elementary, middle and high schools in the city will be covered by then.”

The city government said that the funding should help the parents of high school students save some 800,000 won ($700) per year.

“With the free-lunch-for-all policy, our hope is that the students of some low-income families who had to apply at their school for funding for lunch no longer have to go through that process anymore,” the city government said in its statement. “It could have been a humiliating experience for some students.”

The program, which the city government expects will cost some 700 billion won per year, will be rolled out in phases starting next year.

A total of 96 high schools, or 30 percent of all high schools in Seoul, will begin providing free lunches to senior students from next year. These schools are spread out across nine districts in Seoul, including Dongdaemun, Jung, Dongjak, Gangdong and Gangbuk districts.

Younger students’ lunch will be provided for free in phases from 2020 into 2021.

About 50 percent of the national and private elementary schools and international middle schools in Seoul will start providing free lunches for their students from next year.

“2021 is when we will hit 10 years since Seoul began its free lunch policy at some schools,” Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said in a press conference at City Hall on Monday. “When lunch is covered for all students at public and private elementary and middle and high schools throughout the city, we will have achieved something phenomenal in the city’s history of welfare and education policies.”

The free lunch policy became an issue in the 2010 local election, when candidates were split over whether to offer it to all students. Those supporting it said it will improve the quality of life for all students and their households, while those who opposed said it was a waste of taxpayer money because it would cover the cost of lunch for students whose families can afford to pay.

Former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon was elected to a second term in 2010. He opposed the free lunch for all policy during his campaign.

The free lunch issue became a political hot potato by the end of the year, and members of the Seoul Metropolitan Council who supported the policy pushed for an ordinance bill that would require the Seoul city government to pay for lunches at all schools in the city.

BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]