Second year of public nursery schools free as of September
Private nursery schools will be €800 cheaper on average
BarcelonaThe second year at public nursery schools will be free of charge as of September, while annual fees will be reduced by €800 in private kindergartens. Catalan Education minister Josep Gonzàlez-Cambray signed an agreement this morning with two organisations representing local city councils and three employers' associations of early childhood education, guaranteeing the government funding for these places until 2025, that is to say, until the end of this Parliament.
This was one of the promises president Pere Aragonès made in his investiture speech, but it will finally only benefit pupils in the 42 nursery schools owned by the Generalitat, as well as the 947 owned by local school. As children are not required to attend school before the age of six, nursery schools cannot follow the same model as is used for later stages.
Until now, municipal nursery schools were financed in equal parts by local councils, the Generalitat and family fees. In the agreement the Generalitat commits to doubling its contribution to €1,600 per student per year to cover families' fees. This means that families won't have to pay for children to attend, but they will have to continue to pay for extra costs of services such as early drop-off, canteen and extracurricular activities. In any case, if councils choose to cover these with their own budgets, they will be allowed to do so.
"This 2022-23 academic year we are taking a step forward that has never been taken before. It is a historic agreement," stressed minister Cambray. "In addition, the Government is committed to consolidating this cost in future budgets and extend it to other courses until we achieve our goal, to fund education from ages 0 to 18 and have a totally free schooling," he added.
In turn, local council associations have also celebrated the agreement and have agreed to emphasise that it is only a starting point. "It is the beginning of the path to achieve free schooling for all other places in nursery schools, and not only those for two-year olds," stressed the vice president of the Catalan Association of Municipalities, Marta Bosch. "Catalonia is once again a pioneer and will be of the first regions in Spain to implement this measure", the president of the Federation of Municipalities, Olga Arnau, boasted. She went a step further and also asked the commitment be kept by successive governments: "It is a step forward for the country and that is why we ask that it not only be an agreement with this Government, but that future Governments also keep this commitment, to avoid setbacks for families", she asked.
The €1,600 per place which the Govern has committed is an average rate, as admitted by minister Cambray. He stressed that in most cases councils will end up spending less. There are public nursery schools in which the cost of a spot is higher. These cases – which according to Cambray are few – will be studied case by case "so that no city council ends up having more expenses than it had", he added.
€800 for private kindergartens
Another common situation in big cities, as for example Barcelona, is that there are not enough public nursery schools and working parents are pushed to look for places in the private sector. For these cases, the agreement establishes an increases in the government subsidy for private schools of up to €800 per place starting next year (until now the subsidy was €300 euros per place).
In practice, this means that fees will be €800 cheaper for families and in the case of vulnerable groups this amount will be doubled: €1,600 less per child per year. Despite the fact that the department cannot regulate or set the price of nursery schools because they offer non-compulsory education, it argues that it will mean significant savings, because at this level "prices are not exorbitant". In addition, this subsidy is "directly linked to lowering the price for families." "We guarantee a price reduction, also in the private sector because the subsidy is linked to the reduction of fees," the minister insisted.
The framework agreement establishes that the Generalitat will transfer to the municipalities with an advance in June before the start of the year, another transfer in January and a third in September to square the amount advanced with the actual enrolment numbers.
The law accompanying the budget already includes in additional provision 17 details on the financing and deadlines for this measure: it will start in the 2022-23 school year and funding has been agreed for the next three years.