Czech Education Minister disagrees with free lunches for all primary schoolchildren
Czech Education MInister Robert Plaga (Association of Dissatisfied Citizens - ANO) disagrees with all children receiving free lunches in the schools. The Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) has proposed providing lunches for free to all children in nursery schools and lower primary schools.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO) has proposed that lunches also be offered free of charge to all in upper primary school as well. According to Plaga, while the idea of supporting children from impoverished families is a good one, a different solution must be found.
Plaga made his remarks to journalists during a meeting at the Education Ministry. "As far as free lunches in the schools, I am not a fan of an across-the- board approach," he said.
The minister dislikes the bill submitted by Czech MP Kateřina Valachová (ČSSD), which would introduce free lunches for nursery schools and lower primary schools, and he also dislikes the option of free lunches for all levels of primary school mentioned by the PM. "I do not doubt the purpose, but I believe the solution should not be an across-the-board one," he said.
According to the minister, it is true that eating lunch together improves children's involvement in their school collectives and also improves their academic achievements. However, he believes that the number of families who cannot afford to subscribe their children to lunch programs is just a handful.
The minister said he would welcome targeted support for those who actually need it. He recalled that the Education Ministry already has a subsidy program through which it supports nonprofit organizations that arranging to pay for the school lunches of primary school pupils from impoverished families.
For the year 2019, according to the ministry's press department, the ministry has allocated CZK 30 million [EUR 1.2 million] for such purposes. A similar subsidy program is also offered by the Czech Labor and Social Affairs Ministry.
The Social Democrats are proposing that lunches at nursery schools and in lower primary school be free for all as of September 2020. In their view, the change would make it possible for children from disadvantaged conditions to attend all the activities offered by the schools.
The innovation would mean an expenditure of CZK 5.4 billion [EUR 210 million] per school year. Parents pay roughly CZK 25 [EUR 1] per lunch consumed by schoolchildren in educational facilities currently.
If the amendment to the Education Act were to be approved as submitted, and if it were to begin as of September 2020, it would mean expending CZK 1.8 billion [EUR 70 million] more than is currently expended annually. Valachová said the ČSSD is anticipating support from the ANO movement, its partner in the coalition Government, for the bill.
Babiš agrees with the idea of introducing free lunches. In his view they should also be free for upper primary school pupils.
Those who are submitting the bill argue that there is a long list of European countries providing free lunches to schoolchildren. In addition to England, Finland and Scotland, the country of Slovakia joined that list at the beginning of this month.
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