Australia ACT Liberal and Labor politicians clash over plans to provide free meals for public school students

11:36  25 september  2020
11:36  25 september  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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Universal infant free school meals . Free meals for further education students . Suppliers should have developed transition plans to exit from any relief before the start of the autumn term. Any relief payments for free school meals and universal infant free school meals should be based on the 3

Universalising free school meals will always raise objections among those who believe it is a poor use of public money. Labour and the teachers’ union say at a time when more families are affected by cuts to benefits, and in-work poverty is soaring, the cost of school lunches can be prohibitive.

a group of people looking at a phone: ACT Labor wants to trial free breakfasts and lunches in some public schools. (ABC News: Jane Cowan) © Provided by ABC NEWS ACT Labor wants to trial free breakfasts and lunches in some public schools. (ABC News: Jane Cowan)

A plan to trial free meals in some Canberra public schools has provoked an uproar among the ACT's main political parties, with Labor saying its Liberal opponents "just simply don't care" about disadvantaged students.

Liberal MLA Candice Burch, who is the party's transport spokeswoman, criticised the meals policy this morning, saying it was a distraction from the ACT's education outcomes.

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Visit a local public school and find out how many student qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. There is a geographical element to poverty. Thirteen of those states with a majority of low-income students in their schools are located in the south, six in the west.

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"Our school reading and mathematics results are going backwards, we've got the worst education outcomes in the country, we've had children forced to learn outside in the middle of winter due to hazardous substances in their classrooms, and instead of addressing these problems ACT Labor is trying to distract with free food," Ms Burch wrote on Facebook.

Beneath the post, Liberal candidate for Ginninderra Ignatius Rozario commented: "Children go to school to learn not for free lunch."

Mr Rozario has since edited the comment, saying he agrees with free food for children who need it but the policy will not fix problems in the education system.

Labor leader Andrew Barr had earlier unveiled a plan to trial free breakfasts and lunches at five public schools.

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Guidance to help provide free meals to disadvantaged 16 to 18 year old students in further education (FE) funded institutions. Maintained school and academy sixth forms are already required by the Education Act 1996 to provide free meals to disadvantaged students who are aged over 16.

Public schools provide access to an education for every child in a community. The Huffington Post notes that by law, public schools cannot turn students away based on academic performance, income level or disability. By law, public schools are also required to provide certain services to students .

Mr Barr also announced that, if re-elected, the Government would recruit 25 school-based youth and social workers.

When told of Ms Burch's criticism at a press conference, Labor education spokeswoman Yvette Berry reacted angrily.

"That's disgusting. All the research shows that when a young person has a full stomach, their education will improve," Ms Berry said.

"And those kinds of comments show that they just simply don't care. They simply don't care about people in our community who are doing it tough, who need a hand up without the stigmatisation placed on it.

"They don't have to ask for help — we're going to provide them with the hand up that they need to get a really good education, in an equitable education system."

Canberra schools usually have the nation's highest literacy and numeracy results in national benchmark tests, though the territory's average results slipped behind Victoria's last year.

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The plan is modeled after Tennessee’s free community college program, called the Tennessee Promise, which will be available to students graduating high school this year. Over all, the federal government provides about .1 billion to community colleges, or about 16 percent of the total

However, the ACT Auditor-General has previously found that Canberra students' performances are significantly worse than children in similarly advantaged schools elsewhere.

Liberals say they will reduce poverty

Liberal leader Alistair Coe would not be drawn on whether he stood by Ms Burch's comments, instead saying the Labor Government had created a city with 30,000 people living in poverty.

"We have thousands of kids that are in poverty under ACT Labor," he said when asked about his colleague Ms Burch's comments.

"This is the reality. That's why we called for a poverty inquiry.

"It is absolutely vital that we do everything we can to lower the cost of living in Canberra."

Ms Burch responded to anger at her Facebook past with another message, saying the Liberals would help poorer students by lowering living costs.

"Of course we do not want kids going hungry," she wrote.

"The best way to ensure that kids are well fed when they attend school is to lower the cost of living for Canberra families — and only the Canberra Liberals have a plan to do this."

She said that plan included freezing residential household rates rises, reducing car registration fees and increasing bulk-billing rates by lowering doctors' business costs.

"Remember, there's no such thing as a free lunch, and Andrew Barr already plans on increasing your rates by a further 20 per cent," Ms Burch wrote.

Earlier in the election campaign, Labor pledged to hire more teachers and invest more money in improving government and non-government school buildings.

The Liberals had promised to overhaul the curriculum to free up teachers' time and focus on core subjects such as maths and English.


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