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Kindergartens lash back by rejecting kids

Oct 24,2018
A number of private kindergartens are refusing to accept new kids next year after they were accused of cooking the books by the central government.

“We hereby announce our decision to put off accepting more kids in 2019 to normalize management at the kindergarten,” a private kindergarten in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi, posted on its website recently.

That kindergarten is included in a list of 1,878 private preschools with financial irregularities from 2013 to 2017, according to data in an Education Ministry audit that was disclosed by Rep. Park Yong-jin of the Democratic Party last week.

“We also decided to put off accepting more kids next year,” an employee of a private kindergarten in Incheon, also on the list, told Channel A, a local broadcaster, on Tuesday.

Some parents said the private kindergartens, by refusing to accept new kids next year, are protesting the government’s revelation of the alleged financial irregularities.

“They’re trying to use this leverage to threaten the parents,” said a 34-year-old woman surnamed Kim, who lives in Seoul and has a 3-year-old daughter. “They should be apologizing at this point. I don’t understand why they are threatening us.”

But managers of some private kindergartens said the protest is justifiable.

“I’ve worked my whole life in this sector, education for the young,” said the manager of a private kindergarten in Gyeonggi. “But after this incident, private kindergartens have this new image of being corrupt bodies. I wonder why I’ve worked this long only to be treated this way.”

“I agree that the kindergartens should not accept any more new kids until they have settled this issue with the central government,” said a manager of a private kindergarten in Seoul. “As far as I know, some of them are thinking of closing down.”

It is, however, illegal in Korea for a kindergarten to close doors without approval from the local education office.

The audit, conducted by metropolitan and provincial education offices, looked into 2,058 of the 6,153 kindergartens registered as of 2017, and found that approximately 26.9 billion won ($23.7 million) had been falsely recorded or misappropriated at a number of preschools.

Despite the fact that these are privately operated kindergartens, they receive government day care subsidies as part of a program known as the Nuri Curriculum, in which 2 trillion won is invested annually. Launched in 2012 to ensure all children between the ages of three and five receive equal educational opportunities, the program grants private preschools 290,000 won per child enrolled, and this public financing is usually a critical portion of their revenues.

Hence, parents and taxpayers alike were incensed when Rep. Park showed that large sums had been used by administrators of the preschools for private purposes like gas money or car insurance. At one kindergarten in Seoul, money allocated for children’s meals was used to buy clothes and alcohol.

“A lot of parents must have been disappointed and worried over the recent disclosures,” said Education Minister Yoo Eun-hye on Monday in a meeting with a group of parents at a cafe in Daejeon. “The ministry and local education offices apologize deeply to the parents. We are working on policies that will establish regular surveillance on how the kindergartens are run.”

“Political parties will have to cooperate on this matter to prevent further corrupt practices at private kindergartens,” said Democratic Party Chairman Lee Hae-chan during a party meeting on Monday.

The Education Ministry established on Monday a special team to focus on investigating private kindergartens accused of cooking their books.

BY JEON MIN-HEE, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]