National day care hangs in balance
An association of education office chiefs said yesterday that the organization will not pay for the nationwide day care program next year, threatening to shut down the free service for toddlers that the government began providing in 2012 as part of its embrace of a wider welfare system.
“We decided not to earmark budgets to subsidize the free day care system for 3- to 5-year-olds under the Nuri program,” said Jang Hui-guk, the chief of the Gwangju education office who heads the association, during a briefing yesterday at the National Assembly.
The Nuri program refers to the subsidy program for kindergartens and day care centers for preschool-aged children.
The warning by the association comes as the central government is to withdraw its support for the Nuri program next year.
Previously, funding for the program, which amounts to 3.9 trillion won ($3.6 billion) and includes free day care program, was financed by national taxes, local taxes and grants for local education offices, which are provided by the Ministry of Education.
But under the government plan, education offices will be solely responsible for financially supporting the free day care service with only the grants - a fate the education offices strongly rejected.
“Under the law on child care, it is up to the central and local governments to pay for free education services under the Nuri program,” the association said.
“Money from financial grants for local education cannot be spent on day care centers because they are not educational institutions.”
The association cited the lack of funds available to pay for the free program, which costs approximately 2.1 trillion won annually.
“Educational finances are so dire right now that education offices cannot afford to provide support for the free day care program, which amounts to 2.1 trillion won next year,” said Jang, the Gwangju superintendent.
Approximately 1.2 million kids would be affected if education offices nationwide push ahead with the plan, which would leave their parents either paying for the service or scrambling for alternatives.
It remains to be seen whether the central government will be moved by the warning yesterday, especially since it has to deal with a 464 trillion won deficit and maintains that the education office agreed in 2012 to take over responsibility for the Nuri program.
Financial support from local governments also does not appear to be an option for the local education offices.
Local governments’ combined debt surpassed the 100 trillion won mark for the first time in 2012.
Of the 244 local government offices, 127 are unable to pay their employees without support from the central government.
The warning yesterday was the latest in a series of declarations of possible defaults on paying for the welfare program.
An association of mayors, district office heads and county officials also threatened to default on welfare programs last month if the central government did not provide support for the programs.
BY KANG JIN-KYU, KIM KI-HWAN [email@example.com]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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