Regular collection of money from parents is incompatible with the principle of tuition-free education

Toomas Mattson | 9/10/2015 | 3:34 PM

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TALLINN, 10 September 2015 – The National Audit Office is of the opinion that eight of the ten audited schools in Tallinn and Tartu count to a certain extent on co-financing by parents when implementing their curricula. However, this is incompatible with the principle that children must be able to study in the general education schools of local authorities without having to pay a tuition fee, and that schools are not allowed to expect money from parents.

The National Audit Office sees incompatibility with the principle of tuition-free education irrespective of whether money is requested directly or indirectly, via certain schemes so that the school’s approval of this is not too obvious.

The use of parents’ money in Tallinn English College and Tallinn Mustamäe Upper Secondary School is directly incompatible with law. In 2014, the English College collected ca 180,000 euros and Mustamäe Upper Secondary School collected 76,000 euros in this manner. Money was collected from parents via the organisations established by the schools and it was used to pay teachers for the foreign language lessons included in the schools’ curriculum. The money was collected under the label of donations or education support, but the expected contribution was agreed on by the school board in advance. Reminders were sent to collect the money. The majority of the students’ families (80-90%) have paid the schools. The National Audit Office emphasises that requesting co-financing from parents for teaching the subjects included in the curriculum is expressly prohibited by law.

In addition to the schools already mentioned, donations are collected from parents elsewhere as well. For example, the organisations established in support of Tallinn Secondary Science School, Tallinn French School and Gustav Adolf Grammar School accept tens of thousands of euros from parents every year, which end up in the schools in different ways. The money is used to renovate school premises, pay bonuses to teachers, buy teaching materials, cover the cost of the security service, etc.

Hobby education for a fee is closely integrated with the general education curriculum in Tallinn Old Town Educational College, Tallinn Rahumäe Basic School and Tartu Miina Härma Gymnasium. It is part of the school’s identity that it uses to promote itself in the sphere of education. Hobby education lessons are in the school’s timetable and influence the daily schedule of students. Only a few students do not participate in fee-charging hobby clubs. The organisation of studies shows that schools want their students to participate in hobby education provided for a fee.

Despite being aware of such collection of money, because some parents have questioned its legality in the complaints they have filed, the municipal authorities of Tallinn and Tartu have not initiated any thorough inspection procedures or formed an opinion of the legality of such money collection. The use of parents’ money is not recognised in the budgets of the schools and the local government has made no decisions about its use.

The collection of money is largely kept going by the fact that the parents’ expectations of quality general education and the capacity of local authorities to finance it do not coincide. These are schools that want to stand out in the public education network by offering more diverse and thorough education than usual. In order to achieve this, parents have established organisations that support the schools.

However, 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. If necessary, it must be possible for a local government to get advice from the Ministry of Education and Research.

The National Audit Office is of the opinion that 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. Finding a sensible solution to the problem of money collection also requires a contribution from the state. After all, it is the state that has to ensure with its education policy measures that the right to tuition-free general education is equally guaranteed for everyone.

In order to shape the opinions and attitudes of the society, it is certainly necessary for the Ministry of Education and Research to come out with principal opinions in respect of the money collection problem.

Director of Audit of the Local Authorities Department Airi Mikli said the following when commenting on the reactions of schools to the audit: “In general, the audited schools found that they had not erred against anything, either directly or indirectly. Some schools even drew parallels to national charity campaigns when explaining the donations, such as the annual Christmas Tunnel show of the national public TV channel. The justifications of money collection were very emotional. Some school principals said in their responses that they failed to see what was so bad about such money collection if the school doesn’t have enough money and the parents are prepared to pay. One gets the impression that maintaining the schools specific character is impossible without the money of parents. This cannot be the case. There are certainly municipal schools in Estonia that offer quality and diverse education without collecting money from parents. The fact that some schools collect money this way shows that something is wrong in communication between local authorities, schools and parents. Local authorities don’t have to finance all schools in the same manner, any specific characteristics can be agreed on in the community and justified. More financing from the state could be justified as a result of this. In any case, it should be the local government council that decides on the money used by municipal schools, and the sources of financing of schools must be transparent and known to the general public.”

Background:
The National Audit Office analysed the collection of money from parents for supporting the schools activities in eight municipal schools in Tallinn and two in Tartu. It assessed whether such collection of money is compatible with the legal principle that children must be able to study in the general education schools of local authorities without having to pay a tuition fee and that schools are not allowed to demand money from parents. This principle has been stipulated in the Constitution, the Education Act and the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act.

Guaranteeing the accessibility of general education and maintaining the necessary number of schools is one of the main functions of local authorities, the performance of which takes ca 25% of their budgetary funds. In recent years, this has meant that the total outlay of all local authorities has amounted to 300-400 million euros per annum.

 

Toomas Mattson
Head of Communication Service, National Audit Office
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  • Posted: 9/10/2015 3:34 PM
  • Last Update: 11/10/2015 5:12 PM
  • Last Review: 11/10/2015 5:12 PM

It must be possible to study tuition-free in the general education schools of local authorities, and schools may not expect co-financing from parents.

Vida Press/Corbis

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