Sun, Apr 05, 2009 - Page 3 News List

Group opposes nationwide free lunch proposal

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTER

A civil group representing parents and teachers said yesterday it would continue to oppose government plans to offer free lunches to all elementary and junior high school students.

The plan, which is expected to cost NT$17.2 billion (US$519 million) annually, would significantly squeeze already scarce funding for education, said Wu Chung-tai (吳忠泰), president of the National Teachers’ Association, adding that the group would continue to raise public awareness on the matter.

Representatives of the groups met Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) on Thursday, but “the disagreement was not resolved,” he said.

The meeting came in the wake of a statement by the group in a newspaper opposing the free lunch service for schoolchildren from wealthy families.

Liu made the promise that the national program would begin in September at the earliest while answering a question from Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Tsai Chin-lung (蔡錦隆) in the legislature last month.

While the government has yet to provide details about the plan, it has said it could postpone implementation until early next year.

Opposition to the program has continued to mount, with Wu saying that Liu’s promise meant that funding for other areas of education would suffer as a result.

“According to regulations, the annual education budget is capped at no less than 21.5 percent of government net revenues for the previous three years. In view of decreasing tax revenue, the education budget will only diminish,” Wu said.

Free lunch services for school students are available in eight cities and counties, while students from low and medium-income families, families that suffer sudden financial losses or students who are considered by their teachers to be in need are also covered by the service.

Asked by Liu to conduct a policy evaluation, the Ministry of Education recently proposed another plan — which would come at a cost of an additional NT$1 billion annually — to expand the free lunch service to Aboriginal students and students living in remote areas.

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