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Finance minister: Unused education ministry money can fund teacher wage hikes

Demonstration in support of striking teachers on Toompea, Tallinn, January 22, 2024.
Demonstration in support of striking teachers on Toompea, Tallinn, January 22, 2024. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Residual funds unused for the goals set in last year's state budget which lie within the education ministry's purview could be used to provide the €10 million needed to cover a teachers' wage hike for this year, Minister of Finance, Mart Võrklaev (Reform) says.

Minister of Education Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200) had told ETV morning show "Terevisioon" Monday that it was Minister Võrklaev who had made the above suggestion, which has been rejected by universities and the main student union body, at last Thursday's cabinet meeting.

In providing comment on this to ERR later on Monday, Võrklaev said: "In addition to the €24 million earmarked for a teacher wage hike already planned for 2024, my proposal to the Minister of Education was to make use of funding the education ministry had not utilized towards goals set in its [2023] budget, to provide an additional €10 million wage increase for teachers this year."

€10 million is the figure estimated as needed to provide wage hikes to the baseline minimum demanded by the teachers' union in Estonia.

Teachers nationwide went out on strike from today, Monday, on the issue of pay.

Võrklaev put the residual funding unused at the education ministry in 2023 at €14 million, and the same sum for this year.

This also involves a third ministry, Võrklaev told ERR.

"At the same time, the education ministry had planned €14 million toward the same activities within the 2024 budget. At the end of last year, when amending the budget in 2023, the education ministry itself said that this money will not be used for these activities in 2023, or in 2024, as they would duplicate activities of the applied research center, as planned by the ministry of economic affairs and communications."

"This means that for 2024, as well as likely 2023, remaining funds will come to €28 million in total, which can be used this year at least in part, for the additional wage rise for teachers," Võrklaev continued.

More broadly, the minister said he considers the transferring of funds between budgetary years to be a rapidly growing issue, both in an of itself, and in terms of the sums of money involved.

"This means that the ministries have the funds earmarked for their activities, but do not actually use it, or that this concerns 'over-planning,' or activities that do not need to be carried out in the first place. 2022-2023, the education ministry had €78 million of such funds at its disposal. The education ministry itself knows best what the funds to be transferred in 2023-2024 [are], but on examining at the trends from recent years, it can be assumed that this sum has risen even more," Võrklaev added.

Mart Võrklaev at the government's regular Thursday press conference, January 18, 2024. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

"This is particularly the case given that, regardless of the repeated discussions at cabinet level, it has become clear that the education ministry has €11 million left unused from the EU funding period which will now not be spent in the field of education, including part of the funding allocated to R&D."

Võrklaev went on to say that the key to the desired teacher wage rise lies primarily in an overhaul of the education system.

"In areas where the school network is organized, the average wage of teachers is already 120 percent of the average wage, or more than that," he went on, referring to striking teachers' demands, a demand which they want met by 2027.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mari Peegel

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