The issue of financing free high school education, which the government and the ruling party decided to phase in next semester, has been met with great consequences. Offering free education in high school was withdrawn under the Park Geun-hye administration due to lack of budget. Five months after Education Minister Yoo Eun-hye announced an implementation plan in October, a set of detailed measures came out. The Ministry of Education said that it went through discussion on financing measures with metropolitan and provincial offices of education. However, the superintendents expressed their opposition, arguing that the final decision was not fully agreed on.
The government has announced that free education for high school seniors, which begins next semester this year and costs 385.6 billion won, will be paid by education offices, and that the government and education offices will cover 47.5 percent each from next year to 2024 – 1.38 trillion won for next year and 1.99 trillion won in 2021.
It is urgent to pay for free education for high school seniors’ second semester this year. Having expected some government grants, education offices in metropolitan and provincial regions are now left worried after the government told them to use their own budget. Even as extra budget gets approval, it will be put in use only after the next semester begins. Superintendents on the forefront of the educational field are opposed to the share of 47.5 percent that will be in place starting from next year, lamenting that it is way over an estimated figure of 30 percent.
The government has decided to use specially increased grants to pay for free high school education for the next five years. Once high school education is free, it has to continue. Handling it with such a temporary fund is only a quick fix. What’s worse, there is no blueprint for financing free education in high school after 2025. The Ministry of Education has vaguely explained that it will make a decision given the trends in the number of enrollments and tax projections, thus leaving a budget scheme practically with the next administration after the 2022 presidential election.
Providing free high school education is a bipartisan interest. However, not so much consensus has been reached over how to set aside a budget worth two trillion own per year. Poor preparation has been made. Escalating budget-related discord can only repeat the 2016 childcare crisis where education offices were burdened with an expanded budget for the Nuri Course. The government has to have discussion with metropolitan and provincial offices of education and the opposition party to come up with a stable budget plan.