SEOUL, The government and the ruling Democratic Party (DP) on Thursday unveiled a set of strict measures to eradicate irregularities and enhance accounting transparency at private kindergartens.

Government and DP officials held a meeting amid growing public uproar sparked by a lawmaker's revelation of widespread corruption among preschool owners, including accounting fraud, budget misappropriation and other irregularities.

Among the measures, they agreed to boost the ratio of children using state-run kindergartens to 40 percent at an early date by increasing the number of such preschools. The government originally wanted to achieve the goal by 2022.

They will also apply a state accounting system currently used in schools, called Edufine, to private kindergartens starting 2020. Private preschools have opposed its adoption, as it would put their financial records under government scrutiny.

"The government and the DP agreed to sternly deal with private kindergartens' irregularities with a no-tolerance principle. We will also thoroughly monitor the situation to let taxpayer money be used solely for children," Kim Tae-nyeon, the DP's chief policymaker, told a press briefing.

Rep. Park Yong-jin from the DP recently 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 were found to have misused taxpayer money for inappropriate purposes, including buying private items.

A group representing private preschools apologized to the public. But it also expressed displeasure at the revelation by the lawmaker that could lead the public to misunderstand that all private kindergartens are corrupt.

Some private preschools unilaterally unveiled plans not to recruit new kids or to suspend their operations. The move has made parents hesitate to make strong complaints on concerns that their children might not be able to attend kindergarten.

Yoo Eun-hae, new education minister and deputy prime minister on social affairs, warned of stringent punishment if private preschools take actions such as a collective strike or suspension of receiving new children.

"If private kindergartens take such group actions, there will be stringent sanctions after the corporate watchdog's probe as they are in violation of the fair trade law," Yoo said at the start of the meeting.

"To increase the portion of state-run kindergartens to 40 percent, we will map out detailed plans and closely consult with state and city offices of education."

Kim at the DP said that the Moon Jae-in government will not sit idle if private kindergartens make parents uneasy and hamper preschool kids' right to learn with their collective actions.

The DP submitted to the National Assembly three bills to eradicate corruption at private preschools that include confiscating subsidies given to such institutions if their owners are found to have misappropriated the funds.

Meanwhile, the Korea Kindergarten Association denounced the government's measures as steps that will imperil private preschools' survival.

"We cannot help expressing shock at the government's announcement," the group said.

"The measures will make it impossible for founders and owners of private kindergartens to survive, even though they have used their private assets for land and buildings of kindergartens and devoted themselves to early childhood education for decades," it added.

Source: Yonhap News Agency