Published : 2013-08-23 20:14
Updated : 2013-08-23 20:14
It is becoming increasingly clear that the universal welfare programs introduced in recent years under political motivations are unsustainable.
Last week, Kim Moon-soo, governor of Gyeonggi Province, declared that the provincial government would drastically cut its financial support for the free school lunch program next year.
The provincial government had originally planned to provide 86 billion won ($76 million) for the scheme next year. But it decided to cut the budget to 18.7 billion won and use it solely for students who come to school without lunch.
Despite the deep cut, the province’s educational office would still be able to run its universal free meal service as the provincial government’s support accounted for less than 15 percent of the total cost.
Yet the quality of the meals served to students could be negatively affected.
The main reason behind the provincial government’s surprise move was the expected shortfall in tax revenue.
“It is not a matter of whether we like the concept of universal free school meals or not,” Kim said. “We simply do not have the money to support the program.”
Following Gyeonggi, the governments of Incheon City, Daegu City and South and North Gyeongsang Provinces said they would put on hold their plans to expand their meal programs to cover middle and high school students.
Currently, in most cities and provinces, free lunch is provided to students regardless of their family income. But this universal program is a huge drain on the limited financial resources of local educational offices.
According to reports, many schools cannot have their leaky roofs repaired as local educational offices have drastically cut school operation expenses. They cannot even afford to turn on air conditioners for students in the dog days of summer because of their tight budgets.
It is not just the universal lunch service that is unsustainable. The government’s scheme for universal early childhood education and care also faces funding problems.
Disputes continue between the central and local governments over how to share the funding burden. Recently Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon has kicked up a ruckus about it. He has made the city’s buses and subway trains carry an ad pleading with President Park Geun-hye to keep her promise to have the central government finance local governments’ ECEC plans.
The ECEC scheme is not only unsustainable but also inefficient. One key goal of ECEC is to raise the female employment rate. But a recent report from the Korea Development Institute has found the current plan has made little contribution to boosting it.
The KDI report offers further justification to redesign the costly universal welfare plan based on a selective approach.