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Marshalls school lunch program winner in new budget

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MAJURO — The Marshall Islands public school lunch program is the big winner in a revised FY2021 national budget that went into effect last week.

Funding for Covid-19 preparation and prevention dominates the budget, with $44.3 million of a $271.3 million national budget. But school lunch program funding tripled from time of budget introduction to passage, following President David Kabua’s directive that the government had to increase the program from the previous three-day-per-week system to daily lunch plan.

The school lunch program became a key point of debate and discussion in Nitijela (parliament) sessions and in budget hearings in the lead up to the rollout of the FY2021 budget. The government’s Public School System administration had maintained the three-day-a-week school lunch program for several years despite concern from the public about the remaining two days.

School principals said they saw significantly higher attendance by students on days with the government-provided lunch program. Many more students either did not show up to class or were late returning to class after leaving campus to get their own lunch food on the off-days, Tuesdays and Thursdays, according to several schools.

Students at Marshall Islands High School, the largest public secondary school in the country, enjoy the government-provided school lunch, which has now expanded from three to five days per week. Photo by Wilmer Joel.

In recent weeks, Kabua and Education Minister Kitlang Kabua went to bat for expanding the lunch program.

The Appropriations Committee tweaked dozens of line items for many ministries, moving budgets up or down slightly. The biggest change outside of the Covid-19 budget receiving an additional $12.5 million was the school lunch program. Funding more than tripled for the public school lunch program, going from $1,036,320 to $3,333,352 in the amended budget.

The school lunch budget is broken up into three segments: Majuro changed from $600,000 to $1,948,416; Kwajalein changed from $171,120 to $504,804; and the outer islands changed from $265,200 to $880,132. Seventy-five percent of the country’s estimated population of 55,000 lives in Majuro and Ebeye.

The budget shows that 70% of the revenue is provided by donors. U.S. funding through the Compact of Free Association and federal programs is providing $102.2 million, about 38% of the total budget. The World Bank, Taiwan and the Asian Development Bank are the next three biggest donors to the Marshall Islands.

November 2020 pssnewsletter

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