Heads of six education offices across the country accused the government Wednesday of unfairly forcing local education offices to shoulder the costs for its free child care Nuri program, and suggested an open dialogue to resolve the “crisis.”
Education chiefs of Seoul, Incheon, Gwangju, Gangwon Province, North Jeolla Province and South Jeolla Province held a joint press conference and called for an emergency meeting ― of the leaders of ruling and opposition parties, education superintendents, and ministers of finance and education ― to address the issue.
The press conference was in response to Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan remarks accusing education chiefs of “dereliction of duty,” for refusing to allocate budget for the program.
“The government is threatening the education superintendents in a bid to shift the responsibility of Nuri program. It was the government and the parliament who neglected their job (in relation to Nuri program), not us,” the association of education chiefs said in a joint statement.
Nuri program, one of President Park Geun-hye’s election pledges in 2012, subsidizes parents for costs of child care centers and kindergartens. But the government and local education offices remain at loggerheads over who should cover the costs.
Lee Jae-jung, the education superintendent of Gyeonggi Province, pointed out that contrary to Choi’s claim that education offices and the government had reached an agreement on the operation of Nuri program, they have continuously opposed the project.
He said that his office was hard-pressed for money to pay for the project, which is expected to cost 4 trillion won ($3.3 billion) across the country in 2016.
“The funding for Gyeonggi Province is 8.4 trillion won for this year, but the personnel expense alone costs 8.5 trillion. Forcing us to pay for the Nuri program is effectively telling us to ‘give up’ on public education,” he said.
Education chiefs also said that they are not mandated to subsidize the costs of child care centers, as the facilities are under supervision of the Welfare Ministry.
In light of the prolonged standoff, local groups representing child care centers and parents were split on who to blame for the situation.
Korea Edu-care Association said it would file charges against the education superintendents for dereliction of duty, saying subsidizing the Nuri program was their responsibility.
But seven organizations, including the association of child care centers in Korea, urged the president and the parliament to take responsibility and allocate appropriate budget for the program.
By Yoon Min-sik