RIGA - The Education and Science Ministry’s idea to shift the costs of the free lunches that are served to school kids in Latvia from the central government budget to local governments’ budgets has drawn strong criticism from the Progressives and the Union of Greens and Farmers.
The Progressives party, which currently is not represented in Saeima, said that the Education and Science Ministry’s proposal was another example of the government solving its financial issues at the expense of the least protected groups.
The Education and Science Ministry’s announcement of a possible end of free school meals demonstrates a complete ignorance not only of the ministry’s functions, which among other things includes educating children about healthy eating, but also of the local governments’ unequal possibilities to finance such services as free school lunches, the Progressives said.
“It is absolutely clear that a number of local governments will be unable to take this additional burden,” the political party said.
Greens/Farmers, which is an opposition group in current Saeima, has also raised strong objections to Education and Science Minister Ilga Suplinsk’s (New Conservative Party, JKP) proposal to stop financing the free meals for first to four-grade students from the central government budget next year, as such an ill-considered measure will affect the local governments’ budgets and families.
Greens/Farmers chairman Edgars Tavars told LETA that the “minister wants to save on the young school kids’ health, as it no secret that not all local governments will be able to take over the financing of the free lunches from the central government”.
While nearly EUR 20 million is not a particularly large sum for the central government, it is a significant support for municipalities and families with children.
As reported, continuing work on next year’s budget, the Education and Science Ministry has come up with a proposal that free lunches at schools for grade 1-4 pupils should be ensured by local governments, and, thus, the earmarked EUR 20 million could be used for implementation of priority measures, including teachers’ wages.
At present the Education and Science Ministry pays for free lunches for grade 1-4 pupils, while local government ensure free lunches for other grades.
The ministry said that even though its primary function is education, it has worked to ensure that free lunches are provided to a broader range of pupils.
The government on August 20 was hearing the Finance Ministry’s informative report on revision of budget expenditure, and as a result, the government has ordered the Education and Science Ministry to prepare legislative amendments that exclude the government’s participation in providing free lunches at schools for grade 1-4 pupils starting from January 1, 2020, giving over this function to local governments.
According to data from early 2019, many local governments ensure free lunches to pupils of other grades – 74 percent provide free lunches to grade 5 pupils, 71 percent to grade 6, 63 percent to grade 7, 58 percent to grade 8-9, and 35 percent of local governments provide free lunches to all pupils.