Education Minister Jürgen Ligi has said his ministry is considering scrapping government funding to private schools, starting next year.
Estonia has been exceptionally generous to private schools, Ligi said at a Parliament briefing. Like with public schools, most of their expenses, including teacher and staff salaries, catering and study resources, are currently paid for by the state. It should not have to pay for the utilities too, Ligi said. "In every business - and this is what a private school essentially is - owners accept some sort of responsibility and risks," he added. "In this case, they can collect more funds from tuition fees."
Moreover, he said the state is unlikely to reimburse 14 million to private schools, as ordered by the Supreme Court, which in October 2014 ruled that it is was not right for the state to require local governments to co-finance private schools in the absence of earmarked funds from the state budget.
Heads of private schools are convinced that loss of state funding might prove fatal to several establishments, those promoting Christian values or providing Waldorf education, as well as special needs schools, being most at risk.
"As it stands now, most families in Estonia can afford private schooling," said Signe Aus, head of Kaarli School. "In our school, parents only have to pay for what sets us apart from public schools, i.e. cover the cost of the added value - the Christian world view - we provide. If government funding is cut, only very wealthy parents can afford to send their children to private schools. The education options for families will thereby be reduced."
Principals also fear that many schools will struggle to meet their financial obligations. "A year ago Swedbank gave us a loan for a new schoolhouse with an 8-year deadline, taking into account the current legal situation and our sustainability," said Andres Laanements, head of Pärnu Sütevaka High School of Humanities. "I can't imagine what will happen, if the laws and funding principles change so suddenly."
Editor: M. Oll