At Thursday’s sitting, the Bill on amendments to the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act, which is intended to improve the funding of support specialists at schools, passed the first reading in the Riigikogu.
The Bill on Amendments to the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act (245 SE), initiated by the Centre Party Faction, provides for the allocation of a state budget support to rural municipalities and cities every year that would cover the labour costs of support specialists, in addition to spendings on education.
Mailis Reps, who presented the Bill, was of the opinion that the funding of support specialists has been a bone of contention for the past three years, and the procedure for the funding of support specialists has changed when the ministers have changed. “While as recently as last year the work of support specialists at schools could be funded from the investment component allocated to local governments, this possibility disappeared at the beginning of this year. A salary rise for support specialists is now possible only when something is left over from the salary fund of heads of schools and head teachers, or the funds for textbooks and exercise-books,” Reps said.
Reps explained that teachers and heads of school lack the specific skills to deal with more severe special educational needs. “Besides, more often than not, schools face a shortage of both financial and human resources, and therefore there are not enough resources to form special classes. Speech therapists, special education teachers, psychologists and social pedagogy specialists are vital for teaching children with special educational needs,” Reps said.
In Reps’s words, there are over 23 000 children with special educational needs in Estonia, and they account for nearly 17 per cent of the total number of general education school students.
Chairman of the Cultural Affairs Committee Laine Randjärv said that, at the discussion of the Bill, members of the Cultural Affairs Committee had expressed the opinion that, in addition to class teacher training, it is very important to support support specialists financially.
Randjärv noted that the Government of the Republic had not supported the Bill at its sitting on 16 June. The representative of the Ministry of Education and Research had said in justification at the committee sitting that it is the task of the manager of school to cover the labour costs of support specialists. Also, the state has lifted various obligations from local governments with various amendments to legislation on education in recent years which has helped reduce their costs. In addition, the state offers the possibility for basic schools and upper secondary schools to order the support specialist service from “Rajaleidja” [”Pathfinder”] centres with the help of Foundation Innove in every county as of 2014.
Krista Aru, who took the floor on behalf of the Free Party Faction in the debate, said that the Free Party supports the Bill.
The Bill on the Ratification of the Agreement on the Participation of the Republic of Croatia in the European Economic Area (284 SE), initiated by the Government, also passed the first reading in the Riigikogu. The Agreement establishes the conditions for accession to the European Economic Area. The European Economic Area (EEA) unites the EU Member States and the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) States into an Internal Market governed by the same basic rules. These rules aim to enable goods, services, capital, and persons to move freely about the EEA in an open and competitive environment.
Today, the EFTA includes Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland. However, Switzerland is not party to the EEA as a result of the negative outcome of the referendum, and the relations between Switzerland and the EU are regulated by bilateral agreements.
On the basis of the EEA Agreement, EFTA states can participate in the EU internal market whilst retaining independence from the European Union Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy. According to the EEA Agreement, all European Union law in the fields covered by the EEA Agreement applies to Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. At present, 27 EU Member States and Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are parties to the EEA Agreement.
Croatia became the 28th Member State of the European Union on 1 July 2013. The need to conclude the EEA Enlargement Agreement arises from the Treaty of Accession of Croatia to the European Union which was signed on 9 December 2012, and Article 128 of the EEA Agreement according to which any European State becoming a member of the European Union must apply to become a party to the Agreement.
The EEA Enlargement Agreement will have to be ratified in Estonia because it amends the EEA Agreement that was also ratified in the Riigikogu together with the Enlargement Agreement on Estonia’s accession to the EEA.
Video recordings of the sittings of the Riigikogu can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/riigikogu
(NB! The recording will be uploaded with a delay.)
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