The Slovenia Times

Coalition SAB proposes referendum on primary education funding


The SAB would like to ask voters whether they agree that it should be written down in the Constitution that the state is obliged to finance only public schools.

"If the National Assembly cannot come to a solution, let the voters cut the Gordian knot," MP Maša Kociper said at a news conference in Ljubljana on Wednesday.

The announcement comes two days after the Education Ministry said it would form a task force featuring various stakeholders to reach a consensus on the issue after several attempts to implement the December 2014 Constitutional Court ruling failed.

Kociper said the referendum outcome would serve as a guideline for MPs to decide on how primary schools should be financed in Slovenia.

At the same time, the referendum would present "political pressure [on decision makers] to resolve this question", explained Kociper, a SAB vice president.

The main dilemma for the party is how to interpret the court ruling about 100% funding of private primary schools.

The SAB believes extracurricular activities such as pre-school care for one to five graders or post-school classes are not part of mandatory primary education.

This means that in case of private schools which teach state-approved curricula, these activities should not be financed from the national budget.

The view is consistent with the recently passed law which tried to legislate 100% state funding for private primary schools, yet only for the mandatory programme.

The law was vetoed and then failed to garner the necessary majority to get through the lower chamber again.

Kociper also said that "public schools are available to all children in Slovenia, whereas those parents who want more for their children, should pay for it".

The SAB will start collecting the signatures for the referendum, which has to be called by parliament, at the end of the month.

The party does not intend to join the task force planned by the Education Ministry to resolve the issue of state funding of private primary schools.

The SAB's fellow coalition parties largely doubt the referendum would break the impasse, while the Left, which supports the government, is in favour in principle, arguing the referendum is a basic tool of democratic decision making.

The Modern Centre Party (SMC), the only coalition party which abstained from voting when the law was passed in July, sees the proposal as "a waste of time and taxpayer money".

Aljaž Kovačič of the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) agrees private schools cannot be funded in the same way as public schools, but thinks a referendum will not solve the issue.

"If we were unable to garner 46 votes to endorse the bill on private primary school funding after it was vetoed, how will we get 60 votes to change the Constitution," he wondered.

The Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) said the proposal was legitimate but expensive, noting an average referendum costs EUR 3 million, which could be better spent on pensioners.

The party believes the referendum outcome could serve as a guideline for MPs only if it is attended by many voters, which has not been the case in recent years.

The Left said it was OK if citizens had a say in such matters, but believes the referendum question should be specified in more detail.

MP Matej T. Vatovec said the Left would like the Constitution to say that the state finances public education and that private schools are a luxury.

The SMC's Igor Zorčič said the Education Ministry was obliged to put forward a proposal that would implement the Constitutional Court ruling.

Parliamentary Speaker Dejan Židan of the Social Democrats (SD) is not familiar with the details of the proposal, but believes we need public and private education.

"However, public education should be funded from public funds and private education from private, as is the case in the majority of European countries," he said.

The opposition Democrats (SDS), New Slovenia (NSi) and National Party (SNS) all argued against the referendum, with the SDS saying that the implementation of the Constitutional Court ruling would cost EUR 300,000, while the referendum would cost about EUR 3.5 million.

An association of parents whose children are in private schools said they would fight "any attempt to creatively bypass the decision" of the Constitutional Court, while Igor Kaučič, one of Slovenia's foremost experts on constitutional law, called it "unusual".

Kaučič noted for Radio Slovenija that voter signatures were not even necessary for a consultative referendum, and the results in no way bind the National Assembly.

Instead, he said, it would make more sense to collect 30,000 signatures in support of constitutional changes, in which case parliament would have to consider the motion.


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