Seoul education office to offer aid for kindergarten

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Seoul education office to offer aid for kindergarten

The political quagmire surrounding a package of educational child care subsidies for Korea’s 3- to 5-year-olds saw a breakthrough on Friday, when Seoul’s education authority announced for the first time this year that it plans to finance children in kindergarten.

The budget will support their education for nearly half the year under the controversial Nuri Program, one of President Park Geun-hye’s key initiatives.

Launched in 2012, the subsidies aim to improve the overall development of children aged 3 to 5 years old by offering monthly vouchers to each household regardless of income.

Under the program, fees were decreased by a maximum of 290,000 won ($240) for each student attending a private kindergarten or day care center, and a maximum of 110,000 won for a public kindergarten. Parents pay the balance, which ranges from 10,000 to 200,000 won per month.

But controversy surrounding the program has snowballed in recent months, particularly when regional education offices were tasked with taking 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 was suspended this year, prompting many education superintendents to drop the project.

Friday’s announcement by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education is expected to calm the tens of thousands of beneficiary parents who panicked about the sudden loss of subsidies.

Parents of children in day care, however, were not included among the primary beneficiaries. The office will finance only their after-school programs, providing 70,000 won for each child.

Adamantly dismissing pressure to finance the city’s 3- to 4-year-olds, Cho Hee-yeon, the superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, emphasized that it was not his job to look after them, citing domestic laws indicating that children younger than kindergarten age are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

Among Korea’s 17 regional education offices, Seoul, North Jeolla, Gwangju, Gangwon and Gyeonggi have yet to set aside any money for day care students in the Nuri Program, deepening political chasms between the central government and regional education offices.

On Tuesday, the central government said it would provide financial aid only to regional education authorities planning to operate the Nuri Program this year, a package worth a total of 300 billion won.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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