Minister of the Interior and Social Democratic Party (SDE) chair Lauri Läänemets urged local government leaders on Thursday to postpone any decisions about school closures at least until Estonia's next government coalition is formed.
"Many local governments in Estonia are making crucial decisions tied to the viability of rural areas — namely, they are making decisions regarding closing schools and kindergartens or levels of schools," Läänemets said, speaking at Thursday's government press conference.
"My plea to local government leaders — postpone these decisions if remotely possible, or if making a decision, at least do so with the added clause of waiting until the coalition agreement is signed," he continued. "Because we have talked about the fact that the state has to take steps to ensure that six-grade schools in Estonia are not closed down."
According to the minister, an area's viability is ultimately tied to how many people live there, whether there are young people and children, and their presence in turn continues to be linked to whether there is a school operating in the area and whether there are extracurricular opportunities and such things available there.
He said that this topic has been discussed with the other two parties in the next potential ruling coalition as well, i.e. Eesti 200 and the Reform Party.
"Of course the coalition agreement hasn't yet been signed, and nothing is agreed until everything is agreed," Läänemets acknowledged. "But it is the Social Democrats' strong desire that rescuing and retaining six-grade schools throughout Estonia gets written into that coalition agreement, and we're not talking about sums of hundreds of millions or tens of millions, but rather significantly smaller sums."
It's ultimately just a matter of will to agree on, he added.
"I have no reason to think that our potential coalition partners wouldn't go along with this idea when forming the new coalition," he said.
Local governments are required to make decisions regarding school closures by April 1 each year. According to ERR's information, coalition talks are likely to continue through April 10.
On March 7, the 2023 Riigikogu election winning Reform Party invited Eesti and the Social Democratic Party to initiate coalition talks, which began the next day and remain underway.
Reform won 37 seats in the 101-seat Riigikogu in the elections to conclude March 5. Together with Eesti 200's 14 and the SDE's 9 seats, the anticipated coalition would command a 60-seat majority in Estonia's unicameral parliament.
Editor: Aili Vahtla