United to keep the subsidy

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United to keep the subsidy

The Yoon Suk-yeol administration is considering expanding tax subsidies to universities beyond kindergartens, elementary, middle and high schools. The government wants to reinforce education subsidies for universities to groom talent for chip and other high-tech fields.

The education superintendents across the country, who were newly elected from the June 1 local elections, are united — regardless of their party affiliation and ideological differences — to oppose the move by the government because they do not want to share their budget with universities. Even teachers’ unions with different ideologies united to oppose to the plan.

Ha Yoon-soo, conservative education superintendent of Busan, argued that the university subsidy should be separately financed by a higher-education finance law. The government must not take away the budget of lower education, he said. Gyeonggi education chief Lim Tae-hee used the momentum to call for a bigger budget for elementary and secondary education. The education community opposes any cuts in the education subsidy despite the reduced student count. It argues for an upgrade in infrastructure and devices, and better care — and in tune with the fourth industrial revolution.

The argument has a good reasoning. But subsidies have been increasing in line with the growth in tax revenue. The education subsidy must take up 20.79 percent of domestic tax revenue to be handed out to 17 education offices across the country. Education subsidies this year increased by 20 trillion won ($15.5 billion) to 81 trillion won from last year. But enrolled students have been decreasing. The tally is projected to fall to 3.68 million in 2050 from 5.46 million in 2020. As subsidies expand against thinning students, education offices have been squandering money.

The Seoul Metropolitan Education Office handed out tablet PCs to new middle school students from March, costing 60 billion won a year. Some education offices even handed out 100,000 won to 300,000 won for Covid-19 relief. Candidates running for the superintendent office have promised various populist platforms during their campaigns. Kim Dae-joong, who was elected to be South Jeolla superintendent, pledged to give away 2.4 million won for education expenses to every student. Most voters go to poll stations to elect education superintendents without knowing them, and each candidate is said to spend an average 1.1 billion won on the campaign. Voters must closely watch whether some of the subsidies go to their campaigns.

Squandering increased tax revenues must be fixed. The education subsidy should be changed to correlate with the thinning student numbers. Funding also should expand to universities and life education. The National Assembly must hasten with the amendment of the Education Subsidy Act.
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