While Estonian Minister of Finance Mart Võrklaev (Reform) said that the government will not accept requests for additional funds from the state budget to support the transition to Estonian-language education, Minister of Education Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200) says the government knew from the start, that millions of additional euros would be required.
According to Kallas, the €27 million shortfall to support the plan to transition to Estonian-language education, which appears in next year's budget, was an error, and the government is aware that the amount required will need to be increased every year. "The proportional increase to the amounts earmarked in the action plan is known to the government," Kallas said.
"There is €41 million in the state budget for this year. For 2024, a proportional increase of €27 million is planned. I a firmly committed to the fact that this money has to be factored into the state budget in order that the transition to Estonian-language education goes ahead as planned," Kallas said.
Kallas explained, that in its action plan for the transition to Estonian-language teaching, the Ministry of Education and Research has budgeted for a proportional increase in the required funds. However, for reasons unknown, a lower amount has been included in the state budget strategy (€41 million - ed.).
"Now this mistake has to be corrected," Kallas said.
The minister added that she could not have included a higher amount as it was her predecessor, Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa), who participated in the budget strategy discussions last fall.
"The sums needed for the coming years have been planned by the Ministry of Education and Research. The action plan for the transition to Estonian-language learning will definitely be implemented in full," Kallas said.
Lukas: Prime Minister knew that costs are progressive
Former Minister of Education and Research Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa) told ERR, that he could not be blamed for the fact that next year's budget does not include a proportionately larger amount than this year's. Lukas pointed out, that at the time when the longer-term budget strategy was being agreed upon, the law on the transition to Estonian-language education had not yet come into force.
"In September 2022, when the longer-term budget strategy was agreed, there was no legal basis for planning these costs in the long term, as the law on the transition to Estonian-language education had not yet been adopted," Lukas told ERR.
"And when the transition law was being debated in the Riigikogu between October and December, there was an action plan with a concrete financial plan all along. Everyone involved knew that it would have to be included in the budget strategy in the future," the former minister said.
The Riigikogu approved the transition to Estonian-language education on December 12 last year.
"So, since the law was passed after the budget strategy [was agreed], those costs could not have been reflected in the long-term budget strategy. It's now the new government's job to put them in there," Lukas added.
Lukas echoed Kristina Kallas' words, that the head of the Estonian government has been aware all along that the costs of the transition to Estonian-language education would increase year by year.
"When the law was passed, it was clear to everyone that these costs would be progressive. All ministers, later including the prime minister, now under the new government, and the Minister of Education have confirmed that an action plan will be implemented, which has been agreed on and that action plan contains specific amounts," Lukas said.
Lukas added, that last year, when the budget strategy was being prepared, the Ministry of Finance had made it very clear that it was not possible to plan a complete long-term budget strategy at that time.
"We were told that we would concentrate on expenditure for the next year, which is now, 2023. That the rest would be discussed on a year-by-year basis. It is clear, that if the law on the transition to full Estonian-language education had been adopted later, the costs resulting from this have to be included in the new government's development plans," Lukas said.
According to Lukas, the current public debate between ministers on whether or not the budget covers the costs has also created uncertainty among some of those involved.
"After all, contracts are currently being made with teachers in Ida-Viru County and students are planning their studies. The people who are specifically affected by the transition and these expectations may already be starting to rethink after this discussion, because they need to make operational decisions," Lukas said. The former minister recommended that the government take swift action on the issue and communicates in a clear and concrete way.
On Monday, it emerged that, in the state budget strategy for next year the same amount of funds have been allocated for the transition to Estonian-language education as for the second half of this year - €41 million. However, an additional €27 million is required.
On Thursday, Minister of Finance Mart Võrklaev (Reform) said the extra funds were an additional idea put forward at the impetus of the education minister and stressed that the government would not include such additional requests in the budget.
According to Võrklaev: "The numbers we have put into the budget strategy were put there at that time with full awareness of the program we were planning to go with."
Editor: Michael Cole