Estonian Minister of Education Minister Kristina Kallas' (Eesti 200) plan to increase education subsidies for local governments by €5.35 million, which includes teachers' salaries, is not in line with the law, according to Auditor General Janar Holm. Holm said that such a decision can only be taken by the Riigikogu. However, the education ministry says the move is nothing exceptional.
According to Holm, the minister cannot make decisions by decree that can only be made by the Riigikogu.
"It seems that we have now come to the point where decisions that have to be taken only at the level of the Riigikogu are going to be taken by ministerial decree. According to the State Budget Framework and Bases (in the State Budget Act – ed.), the size of the support fund and the types of support included in it are determined by the state budget. The Government of the Republic cannot reduce or increase the amount of money that the Riigikogu has decided to allocate in the state budget to support the operations of general education schools. Not to mention the minister of education and research doing this by decree," Holm said.
According to the National Audit Office, the general ethos of the 2024 State Budget Act and the State Budget Framework and Bases is that the size of the subsidy for the running of general education schools by local governments is decided by the Riigikogu.
The subsidy for the operation of general education schools can only be paid from the subsidy fund for local governments. No additional money can be paid from the budgets of government ministries.
"If the government wishes to increase the amount of support for local government general education schools, that is entirely possible. However, to do that it is necessary to submit a draft amendment to the State Budget Act 2024 to the Riigikogu for discussion. I do not consider that the €5.35 million found by the Ministry of Education can be used in the way the ministry wants until the state budget for 2024 has been amended accordingly in the Riigikogu," Holm said.
The Auditor General added that the issue has nothing to do with any aims to increase teachers' salaries.
"I would like to remind you that on December 5, shortly before the adoption of the state budget for 2024, the Riigikogu Speaker (Lauri Hussar – ed.), when commenting on the issue of including additional teachers' salaries in the budget, told ERR that after the adoption of the budget, the Riigikogu needs to immediately start working on a draft amendment to the State Budget Act, and expressed the hope that it could be adopted in January 2024. However, the draft amendment to the State Budget Act has not been submitted to the Riigikogu," Holm said.
Holm pointed out that in approving the budget, the Riigikogu has authorized the government to allocate €485,490,000 to subsidize the operations of general education schools, not an additional €5.35 million.
Holm added that this was not simply a formality or a technical issue, but rather fundamental.
"The consequence of such an approach is that the State Budget Act is becoming increasingly meaningless, where what the Riigikogu has decided with the force of the law becomes less and less important.," Holm said.
Holm also sent a memorandum to the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Education and Research, and the Minister of Regional Affairs, who prepared the draft government decree.
Ministry of Education: This is normal practice
In a comment sent to ERR, Indrek Kilk, head of the Ministry of Education and Research's legal department, said that Kristina Kallas' ministerial decree does not entail transferring funds to the support fund in order to raise teachers' salaries, as that is something definitively fixed in the state budget and can only be changed by amending it.
"The €5.35 million to be channeled by the Ministry of Education and Research's decree comes from a line in the state budget intended to ensure access to general and vocational education. It is standard practice to subsidize the educational expenditure of local authorities from this line of the state budget. There is nothing exceptional about it," said Kilk.
Kilk added that for years the ministry has been providing subsidies from its programs to local governments for a number of reasons, including for Estonian language training in Ida-Viru County, hospital training, prison training, training for war refugees from Ukraine all of which necessitate the salary costs of additional teachers to be covered
Cities and municipalities want to know when €5.35 million will reach them
The Association of Estonian Cities and Rural Municipalities has sent a request for information to the Ministry of Education and Research, asking for a ministerial decree guaranteeing that the missing €5.35 million will reach municipal budgets by the end of January at the latest.
The association wants reassurance that the €5.35 million shortfall in teachers' salaries will be distributed to municipalities before the teachers' strike, which starts on January 22.
The association's deputy director Jan Trei, said that if the order for the promised €5.35 million does not reach the municipalities in January, it will not be possible for them to guarantee teacher pay increases starting the same month.
In order to guarantee that salaries for full-time general education teachers at least match the new minimum rate set by the government (€1,803 per month) by 2024, the union says municipalities need an additional €5.35 million on top of the subsidy amount previously foreseen.
"The Union of Towns and Municipalities wants to know when the promised ministerial decree securing the missing €5.35 million for municipalities will receive the minister's signature. If the decree does not reach the municipalities in January, I am afraid I do not see how the municipalities will be able to guarantee teachers' pay increases from January. We want to stress that the money earmarked to guarantee the minimum wage set by the government must reach the local authorities in full and on time," said Trei.
Editor: Michael Cole