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Audit finds funds misuse at preschools

Private school heads diverted cash to gas, handbags, adult toys
Oct 16,2018
Parents across Korea were disturbed after a lawmaker charged last Thursday that accounting fraud was rampant among private kindergartens in the country.

Rep. Park Yong-jin of the Democratic Party disclosed data collected by an Education Ministry audit showing that 5,951 cases of financial irregularities had occurred at 1,878 private preschools in Korea from 2013 to 2017.

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 child 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 these facilities’ budgets.

Hence, parents and taxpayers alike were incensed when Park showed that large sums had been used by administrators of these 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.

The most eye-catching case involved a kindergarten principal in Gyeonggi who used the school’s debit card to buy herself a luxury handbag and pay for hotels and karaoke bars, spending in total 37 million won. She also allegedly used school money to pay for adult goods.

“There are concerns that these examples of financial fraud by private kindergartens may just be the tip of the iceberg,” Park said after he disclosed the data at a parliamentary audit hearing on Thursday. “The public’s taxes must be used correctly and transparently, and are rightfully subject to public oversight.”

Over a hundred petitions decrying the scandal flooded the Blue House’s public petitions page this week, with parents demanding better public oversight over these kindergartens and investigations into preschools in their own neighborhoods.

One 34-year-old mother who sends her 6-year-old daughter to a private kindergarten in southern Seoul said she was relieved to hear her daughter’s school was not among those cited in Park’s list, but remained concerned that it was not among the country’s kindergartens that underwent the audit.

Concerns have also been raised that these revelations will intensify parents’ preference for public kindergartens - which are subject to strict oversight since they are run by the state, but are already overloaded and short of space due to high demand.

Education analysts said the problem is that preschools are not part of the regular education establishment and are exempt from close supervision.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]