The Slovenia Times

Parliament raises public funding of private primary schools


Ljubljana - The National Assembly passed in a 47:43 vote on Thursday a coalition-sponsored bill to increase funds for private primary schools to implement two Constitutional Court rulings. Wednesday's debate proved just as partisan as several previous attempts to regulate the funding of private primaries, and one party could seek a referendum.

All three coalition parties tabled in May the bill to secure 100% state funding of private primary schools' obligatory curriculum, up from 85% now.

The share of funding of their optional programmes, such as remedy classes or morning care, remains the same, at 85%.

Currently, only public primary schools - both their mandatory and optional programmes - are fully funded from the state budget.

There are some 450 public primary schools in the country and only six private ones eligible for state funding.

Coalition MPs thus argued that the bill was no threat to public education or public finances.

When the changes to the organisation and financing of education act were first presented in early May they were estimated at EUR 350,000 a year.

The government now estimates them at over EUR 500,000 a year.

Iva Dimic of New Slovenia (NSi) noted on Wednesday the Constitutional Court had made two rulings on the matter. "In the NSi we respect the Constitutional Court rulings."

In 2014, the court found unconstitutional the current system under which private primary schools receive less public funds than public primary schools.

Several attempts to address the issue failed, and in 2020, the court ruled that obligatory curricula at private primary schools must receive 100% state funding.

The court did not say that these schools' optional programmes should also get full state funding.

The government supported the coalition-sponsored bill, with Education Ministry State Secretary Damir Orehovec saying it was in line with both court decisions.

Mojca Škrinjar, an MP for the ruling Democrats (SDS), said the bill implemented the human right of freedom to choose one's education.

Similarly, SDS MP Tomaž Lisec said "this is not a debate on public and private schools, it is about whether we respect the constitutional order".

The SMC's Mateja Udovč stressed that since primary education in Slovenia is mandatory, the state must fully fund all state-certified primary school programmes.

Branislav Rajić, an unaffiliated MP who was previously a member of the Modern Centre Party (SMC), recalled a similar bill had been filed by the SMC-led Miro Cerar government a few years ago, but had been opposed by all parliamentary parties.

He believes some safety measures should be put in place, so the unaffiliated MPs tabled amendments to set funding criteria for private primary schools, which were endorsed.

The centre-left opposition was meanwhile strongly against the bill, arguing it undermined public education. One party announced a possibility of a referendum.

The LMŠ's Aljaž Kovačič said "it's not about money, it's about the system which provides quality and accessible education to every child, regardless of their nationality, race, gender, language, religion, social standing, political or any other belief".

Marko Koprivc from the SocDems said "the SD will do all in its power against" undermining the public education, "not excluding a referendum" if the bill is passed.

The Left's Matej T. Vatovec fears "the law will give private schools a fresh impetus to start expanding". He believes "public funding of private interests harms public schools and their accessibility".

Maša Kociper from the SAB highlighted a fact that in scarcely populated areas there are only public schools, so "private schools can be a supplement which should be financed by those who want to have them. The state must invest in public education."

Five of the six private primary schools are in Ljubljana, including the biggest ones - the Ljubljana Waldorf School and the catholic Alojzij Šuštar Primary School.

Last school year, they had 1,793 pupils and 303 staff. The Waldorf School, which has also four units around Slovenia, had the majority of pupils, 771.

The second largest school was the Catholic one with 475 pupils, which was also the first private primary school with a state-approved curriculum when it opened in 2008.


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