Even as payday for kindergarten teachers across the country looms, the impasse between government and regional education authorities over financing the country’s free child care “Nuri” program persisted Wednesday as both sides insisted the other back down.
Five education chiefs are at loggerheads with the Education Ministry over the funding of the Nuri program, which subsidizes child care costs for children aged 3-5.
Gyeonggi Province, Gangwon Province, North Jeolla Province, Seoul and Gwangju have refused to allocate a budget for the day care centers, saying that the law states they are only mandated to fund “educational institutes.”
|Children attend a kindergarten in Seoul City. Yonhap|
The standoff has resulted in some local governments, including Seoul and Gyeonggi, cutting the entire Nuri program from their budgets.
While the payday for kindergarten teachers is customarily around the 20th of each month, neither side has succumbed.
The fight between the central and provincial governments has even led to a blame game among municipalities.
Lee Jae-jung, the education superintendent of Gyeonggi Province, held a press conference to denounce Gyeonggi Gov. Nam Kyung-pil’s announcement that the provisional government will fund a few months’ costs of operating the day care centers under the program.
“(Nam’s) measure will only complicate the matter, and aggravate the crisis of regional education finances,” Lee said. He added that the irresponsibility of President Park Geun-hye -- who vowed to expand the Nuri program from 5-year-olds to ages 3-5 -- is causing trouble for the education sector as a whole.
The National Assembly was also embroiled in the dispute, with the ruling Saenuri Party blaming the education superintendents and The Minjoo Party of Korea holding the administration responsible.
Education Minister Lee Joon-sik is scheduled to meet the education chiefs on Thursday, seeking a breakthrough. Their earlier meeting Monday had fallen through.
The chances of a grand compromise remains bleak as the ministry also remains unchanged from its initial position.
“I don’t think there will be a huge change in our stance. It (funding for Nuri) is not something that the ministry has to make a deal with the education offices for. We’ve already checked their budgets and concluded they have sufficient funding,” a ministry official said.
But education offices countered by saying that 17 offices across the country hold accumulated debt of 7.89 trillion won ($6.49 billion), which is more than one-third of their total budget.
With both sides blaming each other, the Korea Kindergarten Association sent a notice to parents saying they would start charging for operating fees.
|Members of an association of child care centers in Incheon City carry baby dolls as part of a demonstration to call for prompt execution of the Nuri budget by Incheon City and Incheon Metropolitan City Office of Education at Incheon City Hall on Wednesday. Yonhap|
“We are waiting to see how the situation turns out for now, but we have no choice but to place the burden on the teachers if nothing happens,” said Lee Myung-hee, the head of KKA’s Seoul division, adding that the kindergartens have postponed the pay date to Jan. 31.
She accused the politicians of worsening the situation, for which children and their parents are paying the price.
By Yoon Min-sik (firstname.lastname@example.org)