The government and the ruling Democratic Party will come up with measures to tackle widespread irregularities in private kindergartens next week, a party official said Tuesday.
They plan to hold a closed-door meeting Sunday amid growing public uproar sparked by revelations of preschool owners' corruption by a lawmaker during a parliamentary audit of the education ministry last week.
Rep. Park Yong-jin from the DP on Thursday unveiled a list of about 1,900 private kindergartens that were found to be involved in nearly 6,000 cases of accounting fraud, budget misappropriation and other irregularities during education authorities' inspections from 2013-17.
Private preschools have been receiving state subsidies since 2012, in addition to tuition from parents. A number of owners of kindergartens misused taxpayer money for other purposes, including buying private items.
The government and the ruling party are considering applying a state accounting system for schools, called Edufine, to private kindergartens.
Currently, the system is used by public and private schools, as well as state-run kindergartens, but private preschools have opposed its adoption, as it would put their financial records under government scrutiny.
"Private kindergartens have been blind spots of government monitoring and supervision," Hong Young-pyo, the DP's floor leader, said at a meeting with party officials.
Hong called on the government to launch an inspection on all private kindergartens as early as possible.
"The government should unveil the names of preschools and their heads that are allegedly involved in serious irregularities. It should also apply a transparent accounting standard to kindergartens to block their potential embezzlement of state grants."
Hong vowed efforts to draw up institutional tools to sternly deal with the issue.
"We plan to make legal grounds to punish preschools whose officials allegedly commit serious embezzlement and retrieve government grants," he said. "In particular, we will draw up institutional tools to prevent the heads of such organizations from reopening a preschool after changing its name."
Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon ordered full disclosure of information.
"We have to let people know everything they need to know, such as which kindergartens did what wrongdoing, whether there are any other irregularities, who will take responsibility for the wrongdoing," Lee said during a Cabinet meeting.
Lee said kindergarten corruption has sparked public disappointment and outrage.
"Some private kindergartens spent subsidies provided with taxpayer money for personal purposes. About 2 trillion won ($1.77 billion) of government money is provided to private kindergartens every year, but there's been no oversight or control," he said.
Later in the day, an association of private kindergartens apologized to the public over the controversy.
"Whatever the reason is, we are terribly sorry for causing big concerns to parents," the group said. "We will deeply reflect on what we've done and will make efforts to develop Korea's preschool education." (Yonhap)