Parents feel the consequences as local governments in many regions raise kindergarten fees to meet expenses caused by the general price increase and the need to raise kindergarten teachers' salaries.
The state increased the minimum wage for teachers from €1,412 to €1,749 beginning this year. This also meant a semi-obligatory increase in kindergarten teacher salaries for local authorities: the state pays subsidies to local authorities for kindergarten teacher salaries on the condition that their salary increase keeps pace with the increase in teacher salaries.
Tonio Tamra, the deputy mayor of Viljandi, told ERR that the early education instructors' salaries were increased so as to keep the state subsidy.
In addition to kindergarten teachers, Viljandi will also raise the salaries of all speech therapists and special needs instructors working in kindergartens. The salary increase will cost the city budget €497,000.
The kindergarten fee cannot legally exceed 20 percent of the minimum wage, which is €725 at the start of the school year.
The attendance fee in Viljandi has risen to €84.1, or roughly 12 percent of the minimum wage.
"The most substantial increase is €8.24 per month, with the other kindergartens increasing their fees by €7.61. Our fees are higher than the Estonian average and we have set a goal of lowering them, but in this difficult time of crisis, we cannot manage otherwise," the deputy mayor explained.
Tamra explained that, in addition to general fees, kindergarten meal prices are also rising as food prices rise, increasing the cost of catering.
"We have reduced operational expenses wherever possible and discussed where else we could cut costs, but there are no more areas where we can save," the deputy mayor said, explaining the kindergarten attendance fee increase.
The city, however, has not given up on its goal of lowering the kindergarten fee to 10 percent of the minimum wage by 2025.
The cost of a daycare in Saue has risen to €145 per month
The majority of municipalities have kindergarten costs that are lower than the legal maximum, although the municipality of Saue in Harju County has fees close to 20 percent of the minimum wage.
The cost of a daycare place in Saue has climbed to €145 per month.
Andres Laisk, the municipality's mayor, emphasized that not all parents have to pay such a high fee: the maximum fee applies to children attending daycare and under the age of three, those who reach the age of three by September 1 and whose parents reside in the municipality receive a 50 percent reduction.
This means that only those who are not taxpayers in the municipality will be charged the full fee, while families with three or more children will be exempt from the fee.
"Important to remember is that because of legal constraints on group sizes, providing a daycare spot to a sibling is now significantly more expensive," he added. "And it is also worth noting that our goal was to harmonize the fees for places in private and municipal kindergartens—we harmonized them with this step," he said.
In the municipality of Saue the kindergarten fee includes food, which costs €2.52 per day, with the municipality contributing 65 cents.
Laisk has earlier said that this compensation is a temporary measure; however, its withdrawal is not an issue at this time. The topic will be dealt with in the future and a decision will be made by the council.
The increase in kindergarten teachers' salaries will be funded by tax revenues, which will then have to be saved elsewhere, he continued.
"Depending on state resources, the specifics will become clearer later this year. Predicting the future is now difficult," the mayor said, adding that the revenue base for the first half of the year will determine the next steps and whether or not cuts are necessary.
The cost of kindergarten meals in Tallinn increased
Residents of Tallinn pay the same monthly charge of €71.25 for kindergarten this year as they did last year.
Since this year, the ceiling for covering the cost of food in preschools has increased by 50 percent, to €2.7 per day for children in daycare and €3 per day for children in kindergartens.
Similarly, there are kindergartens where the current catering procurement period has finished and where the price offered by the new catering contract is higher than the city's compensation. Parents at Tallinn's Kiisupere kindergarten, for example, have been informed that they will have a new caterer starting in the new year and must pay €1.08 per day for the daycare group and €1.38 for the kindergarten group. This results in an additional monthly expense of €20 to €30 for parents.
Vadim Belobrovtsev, the deputy mayor of Tallinn, said that the daily cost of food at Tallinn's kindergartens ranged from €1.19 to €4.7, and that the city's reimbursement should still cover this cost in the majority of cases.
"In the past, parents sometimes have had to pay even more, but with the new regulation in place this will no longer happen. We don't have specific figures yet, as several kindergartens are still working out the cost of a daily meal and negotiations with caterers are ongoing," he added.
This year, €9.15 million from the city budget will go to financing preschool meals.
Childcare is less expensive further from big centers
A kindergarten place in Hiiumaa is reasonably priced in comparison to many other municipalities: until recently, it cost €30 per month, but the council is currently considering a proposal to raise the price to €45.
Even after the price increase, Hiiumaa will remain one of the most child-friendly municipalities, the deputy mayor, Liisi Maeumbaed, said, adding that families will not be charged for food.
Maeumbaed cited the need to raise kindergarten teachers' salaries as one of the main reasons for the price hike, as well as the rise in energy costs and the general price increase. "Since the last kindergarten fee rise in 2019, costs have climbed by more than 50 percent," she said.
Maeumbaed said that when the municipality of Hiiumaa discussed the proposed fee increase with the boards of trustees of all kindergartens, the discussion centered on the extent of the increase, as the price increase itself was not met with much opposition—people understood that costs would be higher in 2023 than in 2019.
The kindergarten attendance fee in Võru municipality, for example, has increased from €10 to €15 per month in 2023, making it even more attractive than in Hiiumaa.
Editor: Kristina Kersa