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Free lunch expanded to all elementary students in Seoul

All Headlines 15:19 November 01, 2011

By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, Nov. 1 (Yonhap) -- Public elementary schools in Seoul offered free meals to all students on Tuesday under an expanded meal program, the first policy change by the new mayor who took office after his predecessor resigned over the failed attempt to downsize the plan.

The opposition-led city council passed the free lunch bill last December, but elementary schools have served free lunches only to students between first and fourth grade with limited budget funded by the city's education board and local district offices.

The conservative former Mayor Oh Se-hoon strongly refused to fund the program with the city's budget and later called a referendum in August to limit the free meals to only lower-income students. After Oh failed to draw enough support to block what he called "populist policy," he voluntarily stepped down.

Shortly after the opposition-led independent Park Won-soon was elected in the Oct. 26 by-election, he approved an 18.4 billion (US$16.6 million) budget to fully implement the program for elementary students in all grades.

On Tuesday, 518,000 students at 549 public elementary schools had free meals, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education said.

Park, who was backed by the left-leaning parties and civic activists, pledged to steadily expand the program to middle schools from next year. His term ends in June 2014.


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