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May 24, 2019
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Czech cabinet rejects SocDem plan for free school lunch for all, asks EdMin to rewrite more limited proposal

9.1.2019 10:03
Czech Labor and Social Affairs Minister Jana Maláčová (ČSSD) and Czech Education Minister Robert Plaga (ANO). (Collage:  Romea.cz)
Czech Labor and Social Affairs Minister Jana Maláčová (ČSSD) and Czech Education Minister Robert Plaga (ANO). (Collage: Romea.cz)

Czech Education Minister Robert Plaga (ANO) has been tasked by the Government with reworking his ministry's proposal for free meals for children in nursery and primary schools. Speaking after Monday's cabinet meeting, Czech PM Andrej Babiš (ANO) informed journalists of the decision, criticizing the ministry's current bill for planning too-high costs for administration of the program.

The cabinet officially rejected an alternative proposal from Social Democrats in the lower house that would have offered free lunch to many more schoolchildren. That bill, however, will still be discussed by the Chamber of Deputies.

The Education Ministry's proposal was criticized prior to the cabinet session by First Deputy Prime Minister Jan Hamáček (ČSSD), the SocDem chair, because of the administration costs it was considering, and the PM shares that opinion. "That proposal assumes rather high administration costs and increased staffing," the PM said.

The cabinet suspended discussion and tasked Plaga with reworking the Education Ministry's proposal. It counts on free lunch being provided just to children attending publicly-established nursery and primary schools if they come from families drawing childcare welfare supplements.

The measure would affect approximately 170 000 children annually and would cost CZK 1.7 billion [EUR 66.3 million]. The Social Democrats, on the other hand, want to provide free lunches across the board to all children in all nursery schools and the first three grades of primary school, which means the cost would be CZK 5.4 billion [EUR 210 million] beginning with the 2020 school year.

Czech Labor and Social Affairs Minister Jana Maláčová (ČSSD) is criticizing the Education Ministry's proposal for only affecting those drawing the childcare welfare supplement. To qualify for that benefit a family's income must be less than 2.7 times the subsistence minimum.

"That makes the proposal problematic because it affects fewer children," Maláčová said. The ČSSD has said it is still ready to work on revising its own proposal so as to reach more children at a lower cost.

Czech Finance Minister Alena Schillerová (for ANO) considers the broad scope of the SocDem proposal to be a drawback. She said she does not see the point of providing free lunch to all irrespective of parents' actual incomes.

"The burden is 5.4 billion, which is actually a lot of money," the Finance Minister said. She also noted that the SocDem's proposal would not have involved the state paying for the lunches directly, but through the Regional Authorities.

ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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