Ministers address day care dilemma

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Ministers address day care dilemma

Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan and Education Minister Hwang Wooyea yesterday demanded that superintendents in city and local government education offices come up with a budget to finance free day care for young children.

The two ministers held a joint press conference at the government complex in central Seoul to announce the government’s position on how it would deal with the local education fiscal crisis. “Recently, the association of city and local education chiefs announced that they will not earmark a budget for 2015,” said Choi, who doubles as the deputy prime minister for the economy.

The Nuri Curriculum, he added, “is a legal responsibility created to reflect the wishes of the people and is mandatory, so it is not something that you can just choose not to follow through with because you say you don’t want to.”

In 2012, the government proposed an educational welfare project targeting the holistic development of children aged 3 to 5 called the Nuri Curriculum, which translates to “world” in Korean.

Earlier this month, an association of education superintendents announced that they would not pay for a nationwide day care program next year. They further threatened to shut down the free day care service for preschool kids between the ages of 3 and 5, which the government began offering in 2012 as part of its embrace of a wider welfare system.

Choi also publicly apologized for “creating worry and anxiety over the local education budget.”

“Budget difficulties due to a lack of tax revenue are across the board,” he pointed out, adding that the central government will try to alleviate difficulties for local governments as best as it can.

Subsidies for kindergartens and day care centers for preschool children were previously financed by national taxes, local taxes and grants for local education offices provided by the Ministry of Education.

But under the central government’s plan for 2015 and beyond, local education offices will be solely responsible for financially supporting the free services at kindergartens and day care centers through the grants — an idea local governments strongly reject as they struggle with their own debts.

The scope of free day care was expanded under the former Lee Myungbak government, which decided to offer the service to all families with 3- to 5-year-olds regardless of their income level by 2013. Prior to 2012, only families in the lower 70-percent income bracket were eligible for free day care.

But in reality, there is little that the central government can do if local education chiefs choose not to earmark a budget for the 2015 plan. “Though the education chiefs decided not to set aside money to finance the day care centers, we look forward to earmarking a budget through negotiation with the Education Ministry,” said Park Yung-soo, a senior official supervising local government education. “We do not currently have other measures, should they not earmark a budget.”


BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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