Portuguese educational debate is really tense. Parents and teachers of non-governmental schools have demonstrated against the Minister of education Tiago Brandão in the streets for the decision he took. The future of many non-governmental schools hangs in the air. Let’s observe first the chronology of events briefly to understand why Portugal is in such a tense situation.
In 1980 in order to guarantee the access to a free education the Portuguese Government decided to establish the association contracts. The original objective of the Association contracts was to fund only those non-governmental schools that filled the governmental gaps. However, in 2013 a new law – Estatuto do Ensino Particular e Cooperativo- established that these Association contracts could be done also in those areas where there was enough public educational offer. In present times, 45000 students in 78 private schools are benefiting of this contracts.
In 2015 there was a change of government, from conservative to a left-coalition government. In April of this year the new government issued a Administrative Norm 1H/2016 establishing that the non-governmental schools benefited by an Association contract only can receive students who reside “in the geographical area of the implementation of the offer established by the Association contract”. Moreover, the State Secretary of Education, Alexandra Leitão pointed that the government are not going to open new schools with association contract.
One of the arguments of the Minister of Education during the Parliamentarian debate (7/10/2016) for this policies was the lack of funding to support both systems. According to a research funded by the Portuguese government in 2012 each classroom of public education costs 86000€. According to the Institute of Financial Management of Education, the state pays 80500€ per class to those schools that have an Association Contract.
Non-governmental schools organizations such as AEEP (Association of Portuguese Private Schools) argues that since a law of 1980, the state has an obligation to finance parents’ choice of private education. However, considering the situation of public finances this has been postponed. Moreover, since 2013, when a new Statute of Private Education (Decree-Law n. º 152/2013) came to force, the “association contracts” are not a way for overcoming the lack of state schools, but a form of offering a wider-choice to parents. This statute enables the establishment of new contracts binding for the state for students entering the school for three school years. (2015/16 to 2017/18) and until these students graduate. The new left wing government has also contested this multiannual term of the contracts, by not supporting students that entered the private schools under contract this September.
Due to the maintenance of these cuts, non-governmental schools have filed suit in the courts requesting compliance of the contracts by the Government. Some preliminary decisions have been issued but the suits are still pending today. These preliminary decisions have gone both ways. For some schools, however, court has frozen the effects of the Decree-Law 1H/2016 while sentence is still pending.
So far, the decisions made by the Ministry has caused already the closure of three schools and the dismissal of hundreds of teachers and other staff.
In the middle of this debate some media have started referencing the Freedom of Education Index 2016 (FEI) done by OIDEL to bring some international approach to this debate. The news highlights that Portugal is below the EU average on terms of freedom of education. Also the Portuguese media have pointed that there is still a huge debate going on concerning the NGS funding, specially due to the hodgepodge that there is between NGS and Catholic Schools. In the Freedom of Education Index 2016 OIDEL pointed the New Statute of Portuguese Private Schools done by the previous government as a good practices that enables a bigger civil society participation and a reinforcement of parental rights. OIDEL notes with concern that the regulatory measures of the new government can have a direct negative impact on the rights of parents and civil society.
Among the articles that have appeared on Portuguese media we can highlight the following:
- Público (Digital version, and Wednesday, February 3th, in the written version 03/02/2016):
- Diário de Notícias Madeira (Wednesday, November 9th Digital version and written version, 09/11/2016)
- Noticias ao Minuto, 09/11/2016
- Rádio Renascença website (Catholic Bishops’ Conference Radio Station), 09/11/2016
- pt (portal internet), 09/11/2016