National

Government approves free preschool education program starting Oct. 2019

Kyodo

The government on Friday formally approved the details of a program that will expand child care and higher education support, including free public preschool education for all children aged between 3 and 5, beginning in October 2019.

To address the country’s falling birthrate, the government will also make day care services free from October for children up to the age of 2 if they come from low-income households. It also plans to provide grant-type scholarships to university students from low-income families from April 2020.

The measures will be launched as the government raises the nation’s consumption tax from 8 percent to 10 percent in October 2019, with some of the generated revenue to go towards paying for the plan.

Related bills will be submitted to the ordinary Diet session next year with the aim of providing wider educational opportunities to households raising children, and reducing the financial burdens on those households.

“We will transform the nation’s social security system to reassure all generations from youth to the elderly,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a ministerial meeting. “The free education program is an important first step.”

Under the preschool subsidy program, which comes with an estimated cost of about ¥776 billion ($7 billion) per year, fees at all authorized preschools will be scrapped for children aged between 3 and 5 while a monthly subsidy cap of ¥25,700 will be set for some private kindergartens. The cap means eligible families will have to make up the difference on fees that go above the state threshold.

For unauthorized preschools, the subsidy cap will be set at ¥37,000 per month for those aged between 3 and 5 and at ¥42,000 for children aged 2 and younger. School meals will be charged separately.

Services offered by baby sitters and care facilities for sick children will be treated the same as unauthorized preschools.

To be eligible for government subsidies, unauthorized facilities need to meet criteria set by the government such as their number of nursery or preschool teachers and the size of the institution.

As a transitional measure, unauthorized facilities that do not meet the standard will also be eligible for the subsidies for the first five years.

As for higher education, students at universities, two-year colleges, specialized training colleges and vocational schools will be able to receive grant scholarships if they come from low-income households.

Annual scholarships worth about ¥350,000 will be provided to national or public university students commuting from their families’ homes, while about ¥800,000 will be available for students living away from their families.

The amount is set at about ¥460,000 and around ¥910,000, respectively, for students attending private schools. Standard tuition fees at national or public schools, set at around ¥540,000, will be waived, while fees will be reduced by up to ¥700,000 for private schools.

The education grant will be provided in principle to tax-exempt households. In a model case of a couple having two children with one attending a university, the student will be eligible for the scholarship if the family’s annual income is under ¥2.7 million.

Even if the family is not exempt from residence tax, the student may still receive two thirds or one third of the grant depending on the income level.