The government and the ruling party vowed Thursday to reinforce monitoring of accounting practices at private kindergartens and to increase the number of the state-run facilities, after accounting fraud was discovered at thousands of kindergartens across the country.
The Education Ministry will also improve transparency at private kindergartens by applying a new accounting system, Minister Yoo Eun-hae and ruling Democratic Party of Korea lawmakers said during a meeting at the National Assembly.
More than 5,000 accounting fraud cases were revealed at private kindergartens, sparking widespread public criticism. In many of the cases, the principals and founders of the private institutes were found to have used tuition fees for their personal expenses, such as buying a designer handbag or paying for hotels and adult goods.
“The comprehensive measures we announce today reflect our strong determination to reinforce the public nature of private kindergartens,” Yoo said.
Democratic Party Floor Leader Rep. Hong Young-pyo also vowed to make legislative efforts to back the ministry’s measures.
There are 4,801 state and public kindergartens and 4,220 private institutes in Korea, according to the ministry. While there are more state- and province-operated institutes, 75 percent of children attending kindergartens go to private ones.
Aware of the financial burden on the parents, the government has been running the Nuri program, which is a child care support program for children aged 3-5. For each child attending a private kindergarten, the government provides up to 220,000 won in monthly support and an additional 70,000 won for after school activities. This year, approximately 2 trillion won was budgeted for the fund.
President Moon Jae-in also previously proposed increasing the number of kindergarteners going to public institutes to up to 40 percent by 2022. The ministry’s announcement Thursday advances the target year by one year, to 2021.
The ministry reported that 91.6 percent of 1,956 private kindergartens inspected by 15 metropolitan and provincial education offices from 2013 to 2017 were found to have made accounting errors or committed fraud.
To improve accounting transparency of private kindergartens, the ministry and the ruling party vowed to apply Edufine, a state accounting system currently used in public schools, to private kindergartens.
The ministry also said it would reinforce the monitoring of private kindergartens, conducting regular inspections. It launched new task forces inside respective education offices to carry out the monitoring.
While state and public kindergartens are regulated under the Kindergarten Act, private kindergartens are subject to the Private School Act. Unlike schools, individuals can open private kindergartens, leading to the question of whether private kindergartens should serve public purposes as schools, or be protected as private businesses.
As some private kindergartens announced that they would not admit new students, or close temporarily to protest against the government’s plan, Yoo pledged punitive measures.
“As education minister, I will not tolerate such actions, threatening the parents by holding the children hostage. The government will not overlook the damage that the parents will suffer from the irresponsible attitudes of the private institutes,” Yoo said.
The ministry said it would establish more public kindergartens by lending the facilities of middle and high schools and by purchasing private kindergartens. Some 87 percent of private kindergartens are operated by individual owners.
Meanwhile, metropolitan and provincial education offices disclosed the names of the private kindergartens found to have committed accounting fraud and the measures taken against them on their respective websites on Thursday.
By Jo He-rim (email@example.com)