Trade union protests against education cuts and reforms

In Latvia, the process of reducing the state budget deficit in 2009 concerns the education sector as part of the public sector. Figures from the budget expenditure show that spending on education in 2009 has been cut by 25% compared with 2008. The decrease in spending necessitates essential structural reforms in the education sector, including the implementation of another financing model, a cut in teachers’ wages and the closing of schools.

Consolidation of schools

The current economic recession is having a significant impact on Latvia’s education sector (LV0907019I). To optimise financial resources in 2009, the Ministry of Education and Science (Latvijas Republikas Izglītības un zinātnes ministrija, IZM) has been carrying out a reorganisation of schools and closing some of them. Data from IZM of 8 September 2009 show that the reorganisation has so far affected 63 schools in Latvia, which have been merged with other schools in the region or the city. IZM also coordinated the closure of 56 general education institutions – encompassing preschool, primary and secondary education – citing the fact that they had an inadequate number of students.

Furthermore, in 2010, the ministry is planning to optimise the network of all-round education institutions by reorganising or closing schools.

New financing system

Since 1 September 2009, IZM has implemented a new financing system in schools – referred to by the ministry as ‘Nauda seko skolēnam’ [‘the money follows the student’]. Under this new strategy, payment is calculated on the basis of the number of students. Thus, funds are allocated to schools based on the number of pupils.

Before September 2009, the financing of schools was tied to the number of teachers’ working hours. The changes in the financing model directly affect the remuneration system for teachers, as their salary will now also depend on the number of students.

The new financing system does not affect professional educational institutions, because they already implement the ‘money follows the student’ model based on the costs of one student in each educational programme.

Trade union position

Participating in the preparation of the state budget for 2010, the Latvian Trade Union of Educational and Scientific Employees (Latvijas Izglītības un zinātnes darbinieku arodbiedrība, LIZDA) appealed to the government to conclude the agreement on increasing teachers’ wages before the end of the economic crisis. From 1 September 2009, the average rate of teachers’ monthly gross wage has decreased from LVL 345 (€491 as at 2 September 2009) to LVL 250 (€356).

LIZDA is dissatisfied with the new regulation, according to which local governments are entitled to set wage rates for teachers and directors of preschool education institutions. In principle, the trade union has agreed to wage cuts; however, IZM has not taken into consideration LIZDA’s objections against the measure that every local and regional government is now authorised to set different wages for employees working in preschool education institutions. This approach has been introduced despite the fact that the government set standard requirements for all persons employed in the country’s preschool education institutions.

Appeal to Latvian government

On 1 September 2009, teachers protested against the reforms in the field of general education concerning budget cuts and reduced wages. Before the protest action, LIZDA launched an appeal during a meeting on 26 August 2009, which was addressed to the Latvian government. The appeal highlighted that the decrease in funding to education and science in 2009 was LVL 186 million (€265 million), and that the planned reduction in 2010 would be LVL 250 million (€356 million).

2009 budget cuts

In the 2009 state budget changes, financial support to local and regional governments for teachers’ remuneration has been cut by LVL 101 million (€144 million) or 50%. Funding to higher education and science has been reduced by LVL 15.2 million (€22 million) or 47%.

LIZDA emphasises that, with the implementation of the new financing model of ‘money follows the student’, the average financial resource per student will be LVL 466 (€663) instead of the planned LVL 963 (€1,370) a year.

2010 budget cuts

Furthermore, in the budget plan for 2010, a 22.5% decrease amounting to LVL 60 million (€85 million) is expected in the average financial support to local and regional governments for the remuneration of teachers.

LIZDA points out that

… hiding behind the word ‘reforms’, the educational system becomes damaged irresponsibly. As a result, the accessibility of the obligatory basic education becomes threatened, because there is no more confidence that all children will have the possibility to go to school and start learning.

Call for evaluation of reforms

In its appeal, the trade union insists categorically on not implementing funding cuts in education and science. LIZDA calls for an evaluation and substantiation of the changes in the education sector. Moreover, it urges the government to renew state financing to training schools for five- and six year-old children, and to maintain funding to academies of music, arts, sports and informal education.

In addition, LIZDA has requested further information about the new financing model, repeatedly underlining the trade union’s entitlement to engage in constructive dialogue with the government.

Irina Curkina, Institute of Economics, Latvian Academy of Sciences

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