Comments of Auditor General Alar Karis on the audit "Financing general education schools with parents’ money"

Alar Karis | 9/4/2015 | 12:00 AM

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“What’s so bad about it when a parent wants their child to get a better, more diverse education, and agrees to contribute to this in any way they can, including financially? Even if the money is paid to a municipal school that provides public education services, the parent who has chosen such a school obviously wants the best for their child. All parents want the best for their children. As a society, we have to make sure that the best education is equally accessible to all children. Estonia has declared that in municipal schools, this right should be guaranteed to children without tuition fees and co-financing by parents. When a parent selects a municipal school, they should not have to answer the question of whether the school expects them to contribute financially so that their child can make good progress. For decades, the general public has been aware of schools where parents know that their children will get the best with the help of their financial contributions.

“In this audit, the National Audit Office looks into the issue of the extent to which the participation of parents in financing municipal schools is acceptable from the viewpoint of public interest, and comes to the conclusion that the decades-long practice and public opinion of this matter do not allow us give a simple and clear answer. As municipal schools don’t usually require parents to pay tuition fees, unlike private schools, the matter is complicated by the vague line between collecting money for charity purposes and clearly for the benefit received in return for the money. Donating for charity purposes is very welcome for the development of civil society. However, if money is mainly collected for the purpose of giving a benefit in return, it is more of a case of buying education services than charity.

“Despite the complexity of the problem, the National Audit Office is of the opinion that such collection of money shouldn’t be allowed to continue. Although the inclusion of parents among the financiers of municipal schools has been known for a long time, neither the local government nor the Ministry of Education and Research have intervened in this development. The main threat such collection of money from parents can entail is the emergence of schools in the public school network that are not affordable for everyone. The knowledge that parents have to pay in some schools, because that’s customary and expected, may start restricting the free accessibility of the education service. Such consequences must be avoided.

“Schools used the money collected from parents in different ways. In two schools in Tallinn, it was done in a manner that was directly incompatible with law. Several schools in Tallinn and Tartu relied on more complicated schemes when using the money of parents. In order to discourage schools from seeking new solutions and making sure everything appears to have been done correctly, the National Audit Office has to do more than just offer a formal interpretation of legal provisions. From the viewpoint of the society’s sense of justice, it is important for the National Audit Office to also act according to the rationale of the law.

“Solving the problems identified during the audit does not call for stricter rules or prohibitions at the level of law, but requires focussing on the opportunities that have so far not been used. Above all, this concerns the role of local government as the manager of schools. The local government cannot be a passive onlooker when it comes to the relationship between parents and schools – it has to be a party to this relationship. The local government has to know what kind of education service parents expect and find ways to meet these expectations. There is no universal solution here and the problem has to be approached on a case by case basis. If necessary, it must be possible for a local government to get advice from the Ministry of Education and Research.”

  • Posted: 9/4/2015 12:00 AM
  • Last Update: 9/10/2015 11:30 AM
  • Last Review: 9/10/2015 11:30 AM

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