Opposition leader, governor clash over free school meals
CHANGWON, South Korea, March 18 (Yonhap) -- The main opposition party's leader exchanged barbs with a ruling party governor Wednesday after the provincial government announced an end to universal free school meals.
The free meal program, which has been adopted in most parts of the nation, has been a constant source of tension between the rival parties as critics argue the money could be used to provide greater support to students from low-income families.
Last week, South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Hong Joon-pyo declared an end to universal free school lunches in his region, saying he would spend the extra money on education vouchers for poorer students.
The decision sparked an outcry within the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), which has argued that poor students could feel ashamed for accepting free meals.
On Wednesday, NPAD Chairman Moon Jae-in visited Hong at the governor's office in Changwon, 398 kilometers southeast of Seoul, but the two failed to narrow their differences on the issue.
"Giving free meals to all children is part of compulsory education," Moon said during his meeting with Hong. "South Gyeongsang children shouldn't be discriminated against over school meals due to political reasoning."
Hong refuted Moon's claim, citing a 2012 Constitutional Court ruling that meals do not fall within the range of compulsory education.
"The (central) government is taking care of meals for children from truly poor backgrounds, so we mean to use our budget to help children of working-class families study," he said.
As Moon left the provincial government building, he told the governor he is "going down the wrong path," to which Hong replied they would have to wait and see.
"I felt as if I was speaking to a wall," Moon added.
"I felt the same," Hong replied.
NPAD Chairman Moon Jae-in (L) and South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Hong Joon-pyo (R) leave the provincial government building in Changwon, 398 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on March 18, 2015. (Yonhap)