Grand compromise on day care funding collapses

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Grand compromise on day care funding collapses

The opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) lashed out at the ruling Saenuri Party on Thursday for walking away from a bipartisan deal announced earlier in the day over the central government’s funding of free day care services, which was declared invalid by the Saenuri Party only minutes later.

The volte face on the agreement, which had revived hopes that the Saenuri and NPAD would find a way to enable free day care service for preschoolers aged three to five next year, continued a parliamentary gridlock over the welfare program.

The confusion began when Rep. Kim Tae-nyeon of the NPAD announced after a meeting with Education Minister Hwang Woo-yea and Saenuri Rep. Shin Sung-bum on Thursday that the three agreed to earmark 560 billion won ($501.7 million) in government subsidies for regional education offices to carry out the part of the free day care services known as the Nuri Program for toddlers aged three to five.

Reps. Kim and Shin are chief negotiators for their parties on the parliamentary education committee.

Kim’s announcement was seen as a breakthrough that could end a dispute between the central government and regional educational offices led by liberal superintendents over the budget for the Nuri program, which was one of President Park Geun-hye’s main campaign pledges while running for president in 2012.

On Oct. 28, 17 education offices issued a joint statement making it clear they will not earmark any money for next year to fund the services if the central government stays uncommitted to helping them out.

In rebuttal, the central government argued regional offices should issue bonds to make up for shortfalls and said no money would come from its coffers.

The fact that Education Minister Hwang was the former chairman of the governing party added weight to the breakthrough announcement.

But shortly after Kim’s announcement, Rep. Kim Jae-won, a member of the Saenuri Party’s leadership, held a press briefing denying that his party had consented to the agreement.

“It might have been possible that the idea was tossed around between chief negotiators. But it was never discussed within the party leadership nor will it be in the future,” said Kim, who went so far as to describe Minister Hwang’s agreement as a “stretch of his authority.”

The NPAD fired back at the prosecutor-turned-lawmaker, calling his dismissal of the agreement “absurd.”

“During my 10-year political career, I have never seen a lawmaker openly invalidate an agreement reached with a minister in charge of a concerned matter, who was his party’s chairman one time,” said Rep. Kim before reporters Thursday.

With the collapse of the agreement, gridlock in the matter continued throughout the day with all Saenuri lawmakers belonging to the parliamentary education committee boycotting a committee meeting convened to resolve the dispute later in the day.

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