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Osaka Pref. relaxed school operation rules at request of group tied to PM's wife

OSAKA -- The Osaka Prefectural Government relaxed requirements for opening private elementary schools in 2012 after a controversial school operator linked to the wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe requested the deregulation measures, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

School operator Moritomo Gakuen based in Osaka's Yodogawa Ward purchased a state-owned land lot in the Osaka Prefecture city of Toyonaka at roughly 14 percent of its appraisal price in June 2016 to build an elementary school with a nationalistic agenda. Many questions have been raised over the land deal as government bodies were directly involved in estimating the cost of removing buried waste at the site and Prime Minister Abe's wife, Akie, was at one point named the honorary principal of the school scheduled to open in April this year.

Under the existing requirements in Osaka Prefecture at the time the school operator requested for deregulation, educational corporations that only operate small-size kindergartens were not allowed to establish elementary schools using loans and only businesses that already run elementary or junior high schools could open a school with borrowed money. This rule was set because it was believed that educational corporations with only small-size kindergartens run relatively high risks of facing financial problems.

According to the prefectural government's private school division, Moritomo Gakuen President Yasunori Kagoike filed for a request to relax the requirements in around 2011. The prefectural government revised the standards for the establishment of private schools on April 1 the following year. Moritomo Gakuen applied to build an elementary school with the prefectural government in October 2014.

With regard to their decision to relax the requirements, the division says since there were only a few prefectures that had similar regulations, it judged such financial requirements were unreasonable. No school operators except for Moritomo Gakuen made similar requests and Moritomo Gakuen is the only corporation that has applied to build an elementary school since the deregulation measures came into effect.

While the Osaka Prefectural Government has not revealed whether Moritomo Gakuen has paid for the preparations for its elementary school with loans, an Osaka Prefectural Private School Council member pointed out during a meeting in December 2014 that the balance of the school operator's loan topped the amount of assets it had, according to meeting minutes.

Furthermore, it was reported during the council's extraordinary meeting on Feb. 22 this year that the number of applications for the planned elementary school was about half its student quota, raising concerns about the operator's financial situation.

Moritomo Gakuen's deregulation request was in line with the Osaka Prefectural Government's push to ease educational regulations. Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui defended the prefectural government's move, saying on Twitter that the revision only lowered the bar that was too high on par with other prefectures to raise the quality of education by inviting new businesses to the educational sector.

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