Varying financial aid allotted for Nuri program

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Varying financial aid allotted for Nuri program

In the latest endeavor to nudge regional education offices to pay up for the controversial Nuri Program, the central government declared Tuesday that it would provide financial aid only for the offices that drew up annual budget plans for the New Year.

The allotment is worth a total of 300 billion won ($248.4 million).

Five of the country’s 17 regional education offices - Seoul, Gwangju, Gyeonggi, Gangwon and North Jeolla - will be exempt from the new set of incentives as a punitive measure for failing to come up with plans.

The Nuri Program, one of the key initiatives of the Park Geun-hye administration, refers to an educational welfare project launched in 2012 that aims to improve the overall development of children 3 to 5 years old by offering monthly vouchers to each household regardless of income.

Controversy surrounding the program has snowballed in recent months, particularly when regional education offices began to take full financial responsibility last year.

Previously, subsidies were partly financed by national taxes, local taxes and grants for regional education offices provided by the Ministry of Education.

Central government support has been suspended this year, prompting many educational superintendents to drop the project.

“The very purpose of this budget lies in backing the Nuri Program,” a source from the Education Ministry said under the condition of anonymity, adding that it was only “reasonable” to support the officials who have actually shown the determination to run it.

“Just take Daejeon and Gwangju, for an example, which have somewhat equal fiscal statuses. Daejeon has vowed to fully fund the Nuri Program this year, while Gwangju, on the other hand, has yet to allocate a single penny,” the source said.

Daegu, Daejeon, Ulsan, Sejong City, South Chungcheong and North Gyeongsang, which all submitted a yearlong budget plan for the Nuri Program, will benefit the most.

Incentives will likely differ depending on the number of beneficiaries and the size of their municipal bonds, among other factors.

Busan, North Chungcheong, Incheon, South Jeolla, South Gyeongsang and Jeju Island, which agreed to finance their Nuri Programs for a certain term this year - or at least showed their intention to do so - will be financed up to nearly half the amount received by the former group.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, NAM YOON-SEO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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