The rapid development of the municipalities surrounding Tallinn has led to a sharp increase in the need for kindergarten spots. Several thousand children are currently wait-listed for available spots at municipal kindergartens, the longest of which at the moment are in Rae, Saue and Viimsi municipalities.
The Ministry of Finance looked into the length of daycare and kindergarten waitlists in bigger urban areas in order to obtain information about the availability of kindergarten spots in local governments. The latter's responses revealed that the situation is currently most critical in the immediate vicinity of the capital city.
A total of 1,282 children are currently wait-listed for kindergarten in Harju County's Rae Municipality, however Municipal Mayor Madis Sarik explained to ERR that of these, 756 are over a year and a half old, or old enough to start kindergarten in an under-3s class. The majority of those waitlisted — 590 kids — are seeking spots in Peetri.
According to Sarik, a total of 87 children who live in Rae Municipality attend public kindergartens in other municipalities, and parents only have to pay for the other municipality's kindergarten fee; the rest is picked up by Rae Municipality. Another 531 Rae children attend private kindergartens and daycares, for which parents have to pay €80 a month out of pocket, equaling the municipality's own monthly kindergarten fee in size.
The biggest shortages in kindergarten spots are in Harju County's growing local governments — Rae Municipality, but also Kiili, Viimsi, Saue and Saku municipalities and beyond.
According to the municipal mayor, the bill for a new early childhood education law has been deferred for years to which both local governments as well as their associations had submitted multiple relevant proposals.
These include a proposed change that would ensure local governments the possibility of substituting private daycares or kindergartens for municipal kindergarten spots for children aged 1.5-3, as well as a proposal to drop "parental consent" from the section regarding substituting a spot in a municipal kindergarten with one in a private daycare or kindergarten.
Namely, under the current Preschool Child Care Institutions Act, a local government may only substitute a child's spot in a kindergarten with a daycare spot with parental consent. With the new early childhood education and daycare law, however, the Ministry of Education and Research wants to harmonize daycare and kindergarten standards, however, so that parents' first choice wouldn't necessarily be a public kindergarten.
Sarik noted that over the past decade, Rae Municipality has created more than 1,000 new kindergarten spots, with another 480 spots to come with the completion of several building additions in the coming years.
Haabneeme's shortage biggest in Viimsi
In Viimsi Municipality, a total of 532 kindergarten-aged children are currently waitlisted for a spot in a public kindergarten; the shortage is most pressing in the small towns of Haabneeme and Viimsi.
"We've managed to secure places for children in cooperation with private kindergartens, but most of them wanted to transfer to a municipal kindergarten as soon as possible," Viimsi Municipal Mayor Illar Lemetti said, highlighting an issue that local government are eagerly awaiting to have resolved with the planned new legislation.
The municipality pays parents whose child between the ages of 1.5-3 doesn't attend kindergarten €250 a month in at-home childcare benefits; these benefits are paid out for some 150 children a year on average.
The waitlist is long in Saue Municipality as well, and currently includes some 500 children aged 1.5-3. According to Saue Municipal Mayor Andres Laisk, the need for kindergarten spots is bigger in areas closer to Tallinn, such as the small town of Laagri, the city of Saue and villages of Alliku, Vanamõisa and Koidu.
In Saku Municipality, there are enough kindergarten spots to go around for children over 3, but the local government is nonetheless short on spots in under-3s classrooms.
"We've created more kindergarten spots, but the need for spots in under-3s classes is increasing faster than the local government can manage to create [new ones]," Saku Municipal Mayor Marti Rehemaa said in his response to the Ministry of Finance.
According to Rehemaa, as of February 1, 201 children are waitlisted for kindergarten in Saku Municipality, and the municipality was unable to provide kindergarten spots to 120 children who needed them this school year.
In Harku Municipality, in highest demand are kindergarten spots in settlements closer to Tallinn, including in Tabasalu and Harkujärve. As of February 1, 208 children under the age of 3 were waitlisted for public kindergarten spots. This school year, a total of 113 children for whom kindergarten spots had been requested starting September 1 could not be placed.
Another 407 children are waitlisted in Kiili Municipality, where there are currently 80 spots available next school year, to which another 120 will be added in a new building opening this fall. Last September, 180 children needing kindergarten spots in the municipality could not be placed.
"Kiili Municipality is small; there is one kindergarten spread across four different buildings in the municipality," municipal educational adviser Dagi Dorbek explained in a letter to the Ministry of Finance. "The distances aren't great. The need for spots is general and not tied to specific needs in one or another area. The new classrooms are being built in an area where housing development is taking place."
Maardu city government, meanwhile, rated the availability of kindergarten spots in town as good. As of the beginning of the month, 306 kids were waitlisted for kindergarten, but spots were secured for all but three children for whom they were requested for the ongoing school year. The biggest need for kindergarten spots is in the Muuga neighborhood.
The Union of Harju County Municipalities (HOL) noted last fall that if the goal is to ensure spots in public kindergartens to all 2,500 children in Harju County who need them, that would require the construction of an additional 25 six-classroom kindergarten buildings, which is not a conceivable investment.
In order to resolve the problem, local governments want municipal or city governments to be legally granted the right to substitute kindergarten spots for children between the ages of 1.5-3 with daycare services. This would also make parents eligible to receive a tax refund on daycare fees, which they currently do not.
Other areas short on kindergarten spots too
In Tartu County's Luunja Municipality, 268 children registered as local residents are currently wait-listed for spots in public kindergartens — plus another 119 children registered living elsewhere. Last fall, the municipality was unable to place 140 children registered as residents of Luunja Municipality.
According to municipality education adviser Kadri Sõrmus, demand for kindergarten spots in areas closer to the city of Tartu — including the villages of Lohkva, Veibri and Rõõmu — is very high.
"On the other hand, at the other end of the municipality, we closed down a kindergarten class that had been operating in the village of Kavastu because there weren't any kids," Sõrmus said. "When we relocated the class to premises located in Luunja, in the middle of the municipality, that had been adapted for children, that class filled up immediately as well. So the need for spots varies significantly across various parts of the municipality. The closer to the city, the greater the need for spots."
In Pärnu, a total of 375 children were wait-listed for kindergarten spots as of the beginning of the month, but spots were secured for all children who had requested placement at the beginning of the current school year, Pärnu Education Department director Ene Koitla confirmed.
According to Koitla, demand for spots depends on new housing developments and is greater in Audru and Paikuse, but the year a kindergarten was built plays a role as well.
"Close cooperation with private daycares has helped alleviate seasonal shortages," she added.
In nearby Tori Municipality, 215 children are seeking placement between this year and 2025. This school year, 37 children could not be placed in their kindergarten of choice, but Deputy Municipal Mayor Priit Ruut confirmed to the Ministry of Finance that all of them were given the opportunity to be placed in a private daycare or kindergarten instead.
In Häädemeeste Municipality, meanwhile, 43 children are currently wait-listed for kindergarten, the majority of whom are seeking placement for this fall or next year; just two are seeking kindergarten spots as soon as possible. All children for whom placement was requested for the current school year were secured kindergarten spots; of these, four were placed in private daycares, but at the municipality's expense until a municipal kindergarten spot opens up for them.
In accordance with the Preschool Child Care Institutions Act, a municipal or city government must guarantee all children between the ages of 1.5 and 7 with at least one parent a registered local resident the opportunity to attend a local kindergarten.
Editor: Aili Vahtla