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Friday, March 27, 2009

Bill offers aid to ailing international schools


Staff writer

An association of ruling bloc lawmakers has drafted a bill to let municipalities provide financial aid to certain types of international schools, many of which are losing students as Brazilian residents lose their jobs amid the recession.

The 55 Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito legislators are thinking of submitting the bill to the Diet before it closes in June.

The draft, recently obtained by The Japan Times, proposes that the state also be allowed to help fund local governments that subsidize unauthorized international schools.

The central and local governments do not provide financial support to international schools that are not deemed "miscellaneous schools" under education ministry guidelines.

The ministry says giving aid to such schools may be interpreted as a violation of Article 89 of the Constitution, which bans subsidies to "organizations not under public supervision."

However, calls for such support have increased recently because Brazilian children whose parents are losing manufacturing jobs in the global downturn are being forced to either attend Japanese public schools despite limited language proficiency or skip school completely.

The association is headed by New Komeito member Eiichi Yamashita, and many of is members are former teachers or those representing areas with large minority populations.

"We appreciate the association's move very much. It would help both schools and children," said Yutaka Nitta, an official at the International Department of the Gifu Prefectural Government, which gave up on providing aid to Brazilian schools in January to avoid violating the Constitution.

To receive subsidies, international schools must meet standards separately set by both the education ministry and local governments.

The draft would clear the schools for subsidies by applying the ministry's standards only, which would make more schools eligible for assistance, the association said.

Currently, 47.5 percent of international schools are receiving public subsidies.

Nitta said most of the international schools in the miscellaneous category are probably Korean schools. He added that only five Latin American schools have been put into that category even though there were more than 100 such schools as of last summer. Many have gone bankrupt, he said.

The proposed rule would have allowed Gifu Prefecture to support Brazilian schools in its jurisdiction.

The prefecture consulted the education ministry about the proposal in January, but the ministry said doing so may violate the Constitution.

Thus, instead of giving subsidies to the schools, it provided scholarships.

"They are not the same," Nitta said. "We wanted to give the money directly to the schools. If the schools go bankrupt, those who can afford them cannot go to them, either."

Nitta also praised the draft for stipulating that the government will subsidize municipalities because some of them are too financially strapped to help international schools.

The draft also says municipalities will have the right to supervise international schools to prevent subsidy abuse.

Private schools authorized under the Private School Law can receive subsidies from the central and local governments.

The government has argued that private schools are subject to state supervision and giving them financial support does not violate Article 89 of the Constitution.

"If schools are considered necessary in terms of promotion of education," the state and municipalities can provide financial support to private schools, the Private School Law states.



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