While the Reform-Eesti 200-SDE coalition has as a goal raising the salary of teachers to 120 percent of the overall average salary in Estonia in four years' time, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) has echoed the finance minister's position that there is no money in the upcoming year's budget to move in this direction.
Finance Minister Mart Võrklaev (Reform) recently said that the education minister and ministry must find the funds needed to hike teacher wages from within its own fiefdom.
The 120-percent goal noted above was reportedly enshrined in the coalition agreement signed in April.
The prime minister has been in Washington this week and made her remarks in an interview given to ERR's correspondent Maria-Ann Rohemäe, which follows in its entirety.
The coalition agreement includes a plan to raise teachers' salaries to 120 percent of the national average. If it is not possible to reach the teachers' desired salary level next year, would it be viable to strike some kind of agreement with the teachers whereby either certain amounts or percentages would be in place, to reach this level by 2027?
We are facing an exceptionally difficult situation in our economy and with the state budget as well, hence why we have now been able to come to agreement on next year's budget, and also the four-year state budget strategy, within the confines of the options we have and in a situation where we have made decisions on various tax hikes, which will boost state revenues.
Once we are clear about the performance of these [tax] receipts, and about how our economy is doing, we will be able to make further decisions, though it will not be until August 2024 when we return to look at these areas (when the 2025 state budget process starts – ed.).
So you can't obtain any fixed amounts and percentages right now?
We can't, because really we still have a high debt burden, loans have become more expensive, and we can't cover fixed costs via loans.
But if at some point such an agreement is made, could it also be in the state budget strategy, as the teachers desire?
An agreement must still tally with the state budget strategy. The state cannot promise anything that there are no funds for. These things go hand-in-hand with the obligation of being able to fulfill these promises.
It has been said that the education sector should be cut down, that is it even viable for enough funding to be found to eventually go towards wage increases?
Education is the only area where we have not been making cuts. All investments in education and research are in excess of €1.5 billion, which is in fact more than we invest in defense. This means there is money in this area, and that reforms must also be made in this area.
If there is a desire to raise teachers' wages, reforms must also accompany this, in order to find the required funds at the from the costs of organizing the school network.
But what does that mean in any case? €140 million is still a lot of money needed to be found.
It is a lot of money, that's true. It doesn't come from a hole in the wall, it comes out of the taxpayer's pocket, so therefore we have to handle it very responsibly. If we take teachers' wages: The problem is that some teachers work under a very heavy burden, and some teachers cannot undertake such a burden and therefore do not get that wage. In other words, in order for things to be more evenly distributed, a reform to the school network must be carried out, one which should be led by the Ministry of Education and Research, in the form of the Minister of Education themselves.
The Minister of Education (Kristina Kallas – ed.) has also said that these funds cannot be found in any other case than having to start with cutbacks.
If we make a comparison with other European countries for example, we are probably the third largest net spender on education. So the money is there. It's just a matter of what we use it for. The Minister of Education took part in the state budget negotiations every day, and she practically got all the things she asked for in that state budget. She knows very well what the current conditions are, and she also knows very well that we cannot make pledges that we cannot cover.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mirjam Mäekivi