The majority of families do not expect to receive one-off subsidies, but want better quality education, well-maintained school buildings, motivated teachers and support services, writes Andres Kaarmann, deputy mayor of Saue and board member of Parempoolsed (Right-wingers).
The City of Tallinn, which is led by the Center Party and the Social Democrats, will, beginning from the upcoming school year, pay a one-off education allowance of €50 to all schoolchildren up to the age of 19. Around 55,000 pupils are set to start school in the capital in the fall, meaning an estimated €2.8 million from the city's coffers will be spent on the allowance. The city authorities have already promised to double this amount to €100 per schoolchild from the next academic year.
Unfortunately, this is yet another, increasingly frequent situation, where essentially token grants are being distributed to a wide target group.
Average incomes in Tallinn and the surrounding Harju County exceed the Estonian average by almost a couple of hundred euros, and it is difficult to see what real problem a one-off grant of €50 will solve. The reality is, that for the majority of those receiving the subsidy, this amount is barely noticeable in relation to their overall income and expenditure, and it does little to help those in real need.
Municipalities have, or at least should have, a pretty good idea of the people living in their territory and how they are coping. If there is a desire to cover the costs of school attendance, this ought to be done in a much more targeted way.
Rather than paying €50 to all pupils, one fifth of those, who are the least financially secure or are from lower-income households could be paid €250, or one tenth €500. (For them), this would already be a substantial grant to buy essential school supplies, clothes, shoes and so on.
However, the majority of families do not expect to receive one-off subsidies, but want better quality educational services. They want school buildings to be well-maintained, motivated teachers and guaranteed support services. The latter is a serious problem in Tallinn, where parents are increasingly finding that educational institutions fail to provide the required levels of support. It is a growing problem, not only in Tallinn, but also in Harju County and throughout Estonia.
On the subject of support services, the money spent on a one-off education grant could (instead) pay for 70 qualified support specialists for a whole year, at a gross salary of €2,200.
With this amount, the salary of every full-time teacher working in Tallinn's general education schools could be raised by €75 (per month). In relation to teachers' salaries, according to the education data portal Haridussilm (which displays indicators reflecting the performance of schools and is used in developing education policy – ed.), the average gross salary of a teacher in Tallinn this year was €1,694. The state budget could (then) pay teachers nearly €100 more (per month) .
For example, in Saue Municipality, the average salary of a school teacher was over €1,879 during the same period. In addition to the salary subsidy from the state budget, Saue municipality paid, on average, around €200 extra per month to each teacher last year. If Tallinn, like several municipalities in Harju County, were to pay teachers extra from its budget, the average salary of a teacher in the capital could be over €2,000.
Perhaps we are seeing yet another example of the kind of populist and indiscriminate distribution of subsidies which, instead of solving problems, creates them. The quality of education is deteriorating, and educational support services, such as psychologists, social workers, speech and language therapists and special needs teachers, are moving further and further away from those in need.
Editor: Michael Cole