Private or public?

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Private or public?

The legislature has passed revised bills on private preschool education to raise transparency and the public role of private kindergartens. The revision was made after a parliamentary audit of the government in 2018 disclosed rampant corruption in private preschool institutions. But there is a controversy over imposing public role on private properties. It remains debatable how much the state can control and influence a for-profit institution under private ownership.

Unlike public-funded establishments, private kindergartens are built and run entirely with individual funds. The owners maintain that they must receive the minimum compensation if they are required of a greater public service. The opposition Liberty Korea Party in November last year proposed allowing private kindergartens to receive subsidy from the government in return for their “leasing” of their land and facilities for a public role. But the suggestion was shot down by the ruling party.

Private kindergartens claim they should be compensated at least for the “lease” of their facilities if they are required of public role. Private preschools came under fire for exploiting public funds and committing other corruptions. The findings led to call for greater public responsibility of preschool institutions regardless of their ownership status.

The government in the 1980s eased rules on establishing preschool institutions, leading to a rush of for-profit kindergartens set up by unqualified individuals and teachers. Private preschool institutions surged from 861 in 1980 to 3,233 in 1987. After the government launched a preschool subsidy program in 2012, it began to pay for some of the tuitions on the parents’ behalf. Since public funds went in, institutions under private ownership should, in theory, come under public supervision.

The government is partly blamed for the troubles. It should have gradually converted the legal status of private institutions in accordance with the public funding. Many private institutions are poised to shutter, causing major disruption as they are responsible for 320,000 kindergarteners.
The government must come up with measures to ease the confusion. It must either recognize remuneration for some of the leases, increase public institutions or facilitate closings of private kindergartens. Forcing private-owned institutions to serve a public service will only start conflict.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 15, Page 34
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