Czech Gov't Agency says funding for inclusive education already exists
The Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion has released a statement explaining that the costs for educating children with special educational needs in mainstream education have already been calculated as part of the Government's Strategy to Combat Social Exclusion. The Czech lower house is currently reviewing an amendment to the Schools Act that is supposed to introduce many changes to primary education in the country.
Some of these changes involve the education of pupils with specific educational needs. In the discussion of the amendment, opinions warning that inclusive education will be expensive have frequently been aired in the media, especially with regard to the education of children with special educational needs in mainstream schools.
Some critics of the amendment say the necessary support to prepare schools to work with pupils who have special educational needs would be so costly as to exceed the current proportions of the budget for schools established by Regional Authorities. These critics have referred to the costs of the pro-inclusive measures listed by the Agency in its Strategy to Combat Social Exclusion for 2011 - 2015 (which the Government will soon be evaluating).
That Strategy states that the necessary cost totals between CZK 10 billion and CZK 18 billion. The Agency would like to add that those costs were calculated during the preparation of the Strategy in 2010 in relation to all 33 measures included in the education field, which cover a very broad spectrum of areas, i.e., not just support for inclusive education in the primary schools, but also, e.g., the issue of preschool education, educational psychological counseling, undergraduate and continuing education of pedagogues, etc.
One of the important parts of the Strategy was also a proposal for changes in the financing of schools established by Regional Authorities and changes to the financing of support for the education of children with specific educational needs. It was presumed that EU funds would be a significant source of funding for short-term use (during the startup of the new systemic measures).
Referring to the analyses and recommendations of the Czech Government National Economic Council, the Strategy stated that a change to this financing would increase the cost of the system only partially. Moreover, it will generate a significant savings on the costs now arising to the state as a result of the insufficient support for the education of pupils, in particular, socially disadvantaged ones, who frequently are not capable of participating in the labor market after completing their educations and remain economically passive.
In addition, the Strategy warned of the fact that the Czech schools, in comparison with other countries in Europe, are those that do the least to support the social mobility of impoverished and socially disadvantaged children. The Strategy also presumed that reforming the financing of schools established by Regional Authorities would also involve an equalizing of the financial support for the integration of children throughout the entire Czech Republic, whether as groups or individually, which is currently done in a completely different way from region to region.
In most regions, there is significantly more financial support for the group integration of children (i.e., in specialized classes, groups or schools) as compared to individual integration (i.e., by enrolling a child into mainstream education). However, many schools that educate children with special educational needs did not wait for changes in financing to be introduced into the state budget and began to make use of EU monies, for example, the Operational Program Education for Competitiveness (2007-2014) in particular.
Thanks to such projects, these schools have managed to ensure funding for school psychologists, speech therapists, teaching assistants and other specialists, and they have introduced progressive education methods for children with special educational needs, as well as educated and prepared the teachers themselves for this work. During the recent funding period, the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, through these projects, has supported the development of school counseling departments and school psychologists, whose presence in the schools has expanded precisely thanks to the EU funding, and who have very quickly became a much-desired source of support for their faculty members.
During the upcoming program period of the European Structural and Investment Funds, the ministry is counting on supporting the education of children with special needs through the Operational Program Research, Development and Education (OP VVV) in the amount of EUR 258.82 million (the EU is providing EUR 220 million and the Czech Republic will co-finance EUR 30.82 million). The new OP VVV program represents an extraordinary, one-time opportunity for the school system to take advantage, until 2023, of additional monies for under-financed schools and to ensure the winding down of the original "normative" financing system and the startup of a new system based on financing support measures for individual pupils, which will be introduced by the amendment to the Schools Act now being discussed.
Pupils will be supported according to their needs at varying intensities along a five-degree scale where the first degree of support does not involve any increased economic costs for a child's education. Degrees two through five assume the need for a supplemental financial contribution to the education of the child according to the so-called catalog of support measures now being developed for the ministry by external vendors.
It is evident that the process of assessing the costs of these individual support measures at each degree will need to be corrected after pilot testing, with a view to learning how large a number of children need support at various levels. Especially in relation to children with medical disadvantages or social disadvantages, the Czech Republic does not currently have sufficient data to precisely determine their numbers.
Any eventual higher costs for financing certain measures can temporarily be covered from the Structural Funds, which would thereby be fulfilling their main purpose of aiding these structural changes with respect to the equity and quality of the education system. The Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport is well aware of these opportunities and has designed the OP VVV to be used in this way.
Another important adjustment will be introduced by changing the financing of schools established by Regional Authorities, which will be performed within the framework of the amendment to the Schools Act to be submitted to the Government for review this year. Currently, support for the inclusion (group or individual integration) of children into schools is addressed very differently by each region and is frequently funded from parts of their budgets that are unrelated to the normative financing of schools.
This funding represents a significant down payment on the creation of a financial background for financing these support measures. For more information about the Catalog of Support Measures (in Czech), please see this schematic and this table.
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