At today’s discussion of the financing of education as a matter of significant national importance in the Riigikogu, the focus was on general education where the functions of the state and the local government are the most intertwined.
The Chairman of the Cultural Affairs Committee Laine Randjärv said that local governments and general education schools should be given more rights and responsibility in the organisation of education. “The majority of the members of the Cultural Affairs Committee have stated in discussions that all the money that is necessary to provide general education at municipal schools, including teachers’ salary fund and other amounts necessary to organise studies in municipal schools that the state allocates at present, should be contributed to the revenue base of the local government,” Randjärv said.
Under the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act, the state has assumed the task of establishing at least one state upper secondary school in every county by 2020. Randjärv explained that, according to the plan of the Ministry of Education and Research, the need for remaining study places is planned to be covered in cooperation with local governments and managers of private general education schools. Randjärv said that the Cultural Affairs Committee in the majority supports the transition of upper secondary education to the state, but many issues are still unresolved. “At the moment, it is not yet clear at what pace and how the state will begin to take over municipal upper secondary schools, although the plan to integrate municipal upper secondary schools into the state schools network should be realised by 2023. The resolution of the issues relating to the provision of upper secondary education should release funds for local governments to contribute more to pre-school, hobby and basic education,” Randjärv said.
Randjärv said that the Cultural Affairs Committee wishes to describe the tasks of the state more explicitly and, in the proceedings on the new Education Bill, will begin to resolve the issues that have arisen.
In this report, the Minister of Education and Research Jürgen Ligi focused on the report of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on the education system of Estonia. As strengths of Estonia, the report highlights the effective and equal school system, the informed education policy and the clear strategy, and considerable investments into education.
Ligi did not support the position of the Cultural Affairs Committee to eliminate the targeted financing of local governments. “If we give the teacher’s money to the free disposal of local governments, the result will be what we see in Latvia where a large number of teachers are in schools that have not been closed down, in the unconsolidated school network, and receive only a minimum salary which is much lower than ours,” Ligi said. He considered teachers’ salary a priority, and stressed that Estonia is the country with the fastest rise in teachers’ salary in the OECD.
Ligi agreed with the challenges regarding the vagueness of the responsibility of the state and the local government, pointed out in the report. He also agreed that the school network must be re-organised more quickly.
In Ligi’s opinion, the financing of private schools creates serious fairness issues and competitive advantages for private schools. “It creates more inefficiency and costliness, and it is the basis for quality problems in the future. These are the words of the OECD, that a private school child enjoys greater funding, unequal to the funding enjoyed by an ordinary school child. In Tartu and Tallinn, for example, the real estate support is one and a half times higher, not to speak of the average regional impact on a wider scale,” Ligi said.
In the opinion of the representative of the Association of Municipalities of Estonia and the Association of Estonian Cities, Mayor of Tartu Urmas Klaas, the problems and dissatisfaction are the greatest in general education today. “The budget possibilities, including the possibilities to finance education, of local governments are increasingly falling behind the possibilities of the state budget, and local governments cannot put up with this anymore,” Klaas said.
Klaas saw it as a problem that education support is used for specific purposes and is excessively regulated. Klaas also mentioned the organisation and financing of the education of pupils with special educational needs as a point of concern.
In the opinion of the Director of Audit Airi Mikli (National Audit Office of Estonia, Local Governments’ Audit Department), in the financing of general education, there is room for better use of taxpayer’s money. “The starting point should be to optimise the relation between the teacher and pupils, put an end to the predetermined and rigid targeting of the education support, and give greater responsibility to managers of school. It should be possible to use the money so that the result obtained for the money would be important. The result should be taken into account also in the organisation of education on a more general scale, depending on how the local government landscape will develop in the near future,” Mikli said.
Mailis Reps, Kalle Muuli, Mihkel Raud, Heidy Purga, Krista Aru, Märt Sults, Priit Sibul, Andres Ammas and Peeter Ernits took the floor during the debate.
Video recordings of the sittings of the Riigikogu can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/riigikogu
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