Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Will the Money Follow Children or ...

Dessislava Boshnakova*, February 23, 2012

The new Bulgarian bill on school education provides for the principle "money follows the student" to be put into practise for the first time, which will allow pupils in private schools to receive state subsidies too. This caused mixed public reactions - from complete approval to fierce criticism. euinside supports the proposal because we believe it will provide greater choice for parents and children and will increase competition, especially if private schools respond by reducing their fees. It is high time public schools to also start competing for our children, especially given the fact that parents are forced to additionally finance the school budgets in many different ways. Here we publish an opinion in favour of the proposal and invite you to share your position in the form of a comment below this article.

The purpose of the 'money follows the student' principle is the state to bear the costs of its educational requirements for all children in Bulgarian schools equally and in the same way. Currently, in terms of private schools and their pupils, the state has only requirements. And believe me, the state monitors very strictly whether they are met. The only exception to the rule depriving pupils in private schools from state subsidy, which has been obtained after many battles in 2008, is to supply them with textbooks and appliances.

When as a citizen of Bulgaria I have obligations and I fulfil them, it is right for me to receive the money provided by the state for this type of activity and not to finance it all by myself. If I want more of what the state offers and it wants me to know, then it is right and necessary for me to finance myself.

Nobody talks about state funding for private schools. We are talking about public money for Bulgarian children. If a child moves from one school to another, money follows it. So the money is for the child, not for the school. This is extremely important to understand. And when there are obligations and they are fulfilled, it is right to respect equally for all the rights deriving from them.

This is the situation at the moment. Children in private schools virtually set free funds from the budget for education, because they don`t receive the Standard Single Cost from the state [this is the official name of the public subsidy per child]. And the budget for education is formed on the basis of the number of school-age children. That means that the money for children in private schools are planned for in the budget, because in purely hypothetical terms the parents of these children may choose to enrol them in state or municipal schools and the state should have the money in its budget. So the introduction of the 'money follows the student' principle will not in any way increase the budget for education, but will help for the proper spending of the money - it will go to those children, whom it is destined for.

According to a World Bank report on the state of education systems around the world, in countries with more developed or the so called "integral" environment for public-private partnerships, the public sector finances private schools as it provides pupils with vouchers for their education, regardless of the school in which they choose to learn, which encourages pupils' free choice and competition among schools.

In the National Programme for School and Preschool Education Development (2006-2015), adopted by Bulgaria's Parliament, the introduction of the 'money follows the student' principle is planned to take place "no earlier than 2009." It is right in 2012 this to be enshrined into law too and to be applied before the end of the period – 2015. If the principle remains in the proposed new education bill, the children that have been deprived for years of their guaranteed Constitutional rights, will finally receive their country's support.

As a parent, all I want is my children to receive equal treatment, regardless of what school they attend or whose property it is. Otherwise, it is difficult to tell them that the state cares about them and even harder to teach them to respect it, because they have not received any - their choice where they want to study has not been respected.

Creating conditions for public-private partnerships in the education sphere will improve the quality of education and we will all gain from this - parents and children. It is clear, that the state will not cope alone with the serious changes that must take place in the philosophy of education policy. Not that the Ministry of Education does not know what to do, but simply the resistance against everything new that leads to change is enormous. Here the partnership with private organisations, offering better education can help all parties concerned. I hope we are all concerned our children to get better education.

*Dessislava Boshnakova is a member of the Steering Board of an Bulgarian NGO devoted on support and protection of children's rights to equal access to education.