BEIJING — Chinese authorities have arrested the owner of a kindergarten that operated a severely overcrowded bus that crashed, killing 19 children, state media said.
The privately run school will be closed and a new public school will open at the same location Monday, the city government said.
The bus, originally a nine-seat van, was carrying 62 children and two adults when it crashed head-on with a truck in northwest Gansu province on Wednesday. Their teacher and the driver died along with the children, who were between 3 and 5 years old, and all 43 surviving children were injured.
The bus was on its way to the privately run Little Doctor Kindergarten in a rural area that comes under the Qingyang city government.
Qingyang city government said in a statement that the kindergarten has been closed, and that the public school opening at the same site will have a 45-seat bus donated by an oil company. It also said that parents of each killed child will receive 436,000 yuan ($68,000) in "compensation and consolation" money.
The owner of the kindergarten, Li Jungang, has been formally arrested on suspicion of causing traffic casualties, the Procuratorial Daily, the top prosecutor's official newspaper, said in a report on its website.
The report cited the county prosecutor as saying Li broke traffic laws by removing the seats in the van to cram more passengers in and by instructing others to drive the overloaded vehicle.
Xinhua said the Little Doctor Kindergarten had more than 700 children but only four vans whose seats had been removed so more passengers could be crammed in. The new school will open Monday, it said.
Such overcrowding on school buses is common in China. Commentators say closures of rural schools have exacerbated the problem, as children are forced to travel farther to get an education.
The city government said Friday it will build 200 public kindergartens in the next three years at a cost of 680 million yuan ($107 million) – throwing in an extra 100 million yuan after Wednesday's crash in order to accelerate the development of preschool education.
China has made a concerted effort to rebuild and improve a public education system that withered with the collapse of centrally planned socialism in the 1990s. Central government spending on education has steadily grown in recent years.
But there are great disparities, with rural areas and small cities like Qingyang chronically short of funds.
The Little Doctor Kindergarten served students mostly from farming families, and many of the parents of the hospitalized children were migrant workers who had left their villages to seek work in cities across China.
The Qingyang government said it aims to make public kindergartens account for more than 80 percent of kindergartens in three years.
Qingyang has a population of 2.5 million – a small city by China's standards.