Ensure parents and children get the benefits of kindergarten subsidies

The plan to make kindergarten education free is laudable, but not if it is open to abuse by schools and landlords

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 December, 2016, 1:42am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 December, 2016, 1:42am

Laudable as it is, the chief executive’s goal of extending free education to the pre-primary level will always be a challenge in a city where kindergartens are run like private businesses. As soon as he pledged to boost subsidies to

HK$7 billion a year, landlords and school operators immediately seized the opportunity to charge more. The result is that only some kindergartens have become genuinely free. Pressure is now growing on the government to closely monitor the situation so that the initiative will not make parents worse off.

Based on preliminary estimates of school fees submitted to the government, about 20 per cent of half-day schools that come under the scheme may still not be free. At least 47 schools are expected to charge even more than they do now. While officials prefer to focus on the 80 per cent of half-day schools that they say have become free – a rise, they say, from 15 per cent before the scheme – critics have accused the chief executive of honouring his election promise with what they called “fake” free education.

Dozens of Hong Kong kindergartens plan to raise fees under ‘free’ school policy

As with other government subsidy schemes, the financial commitment is an incentive for abuse. That fact that many kindergartens are leasing commercial premises means they are at the mercy of the market economy. As the Post has previously reported, some school operators believed that the subsidy would become an excuse for landlords to raise rents.

Be that as it may, it does not seem right for schools to factor in an anticipated rise in advance. It is good to hear that officials will vet the fees closely. The government believes that 20 of the 738 pre-schools in the scheme may have overestimated the fees they will charge next year.

The subsidy is meant to benefit parents and children, not landlords and school operators. If the scheme has opened up room for abuse, the government should seriously look into it. The last thing the government wants to see is parents victimised by a well-intentioned scheme. Officials should do whatever it takes to ensure that the real benefits will go to parents and children.