Estonia's private schools raise financial concerns with education minister

Whiteboard in a school classroom with Estonian writing on it. Photo is illustrative.
Whiteboard in a school classroom with Estonian writing on it. Photo is illustrative. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

According to a letter sent by Estonia's private schools to Minister of Education Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200), their economic situation has become more difficult. With the first signs of potential closures becoming visible, schools now want to consult with the ministry in order to find a solution that would bring subsidies into line with the reality of the situation.

Estonia's private schools have written to Minister of Education Kristina Kallas expressing concern that their financial situation is becoming increasingly challenging. According to the letter, the first signs that some of the country's private school may have to consider closing are starting to appear.

Ahto Orav, chair of the Estonian Union of Private Schools (Eesti Eraüldhariduskoolide Ühenduse), told ERR, that for now he could point to no concrete examples of private school closures. However, it is becoming more likely that at some point soon, smaller schools may be in a situation, where they are no longer able to operate.

"For example, if you had a school building with gas heating, then you couldn't disconnect it. If you have an environment that dictates the prices, but you can't change the prices yourself, for example by changing the tuition fees halfway through the year, then problems arise. So, you have to think about what you can do," he said.

However, according to Orav, private schools are not only worried about rapidly rising costs. They  also have concerns related to procedures and project funding. The level and form of cooperation between schools and local authorities varies from case to case, with a number of gaps when it comes to regulations.

"The concept of school networks is also changing, with state schools operating in local authority areas alongside private schools," he said.

The NGO Estonian Union of Private Schools, the Union of Estonian Christian Private Schools (Eesti kristlike erakoolid) and the Estonian Association of Free Waldorf Schools and Kindergartens (Eesti Vabade Waldorfkoolide ja -lasteaedade Ühendus) all want to discuss their concerns with the ministry in more detail and have proposed that a working group established consisting of representatives of each of those organizations along with specialists from the ministry.

Estonia's private schools also want to either introduce a fee indexation system, or something similar, to ensure that subsidies for education remain in line with actual costs.

Last fall, Estonia's private schools informed the then Minister of Education Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa) of their concerns. At that time, they emphasized that the biggest issue related to the fact that operating grants are calculated with a time lag of around one and a half years. Therefore, as costs have risen rapidly over the last year in particular, current grants are not in line with the reality of the present situation.

Orav said, that the issue had been left in the air due to the approaching Riigikogu elections and subsequent change of minister changed. However, they now they want to move forward in the same direction as before. With the spending situation having changed drastically in recent years and the funding system remaining stable, the Estonian government is more focused on making savings. Therefore, according to Orav, the main question is how to look at the school network more holistically.

"There is no insistence, intrigue or confrontation, because there would be no benefit to that," Orav stressed. "As circumstances change, processes need to be reviewed. We're not going to demand anything, but we'd like to discuss a long term plan about how to move forward."

The private schools acknowledged, that the problems have become even more complex than they were last fall, and that they hope to meet with the education minister shortly.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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