Interviews

Věra Kovářová: Funding for the education system needs to keep growing

Publikováno: 17. 11. 2023
Autor: Magda Mrnková
Foto: archives of Věra Kovářová
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The opposition keeps criticizing the government for various reasons, but funding for the education system is among them surprisingly rarely. There may be more discussions on this topic within the coalition than without. One very vocal proponent of education expenses is Deputy Speaker of the Chamber and MP for STAN Věra Kovářová.

So, how much money will be allotted to education next year?
The government has passed a budget that accounts for nearly 269 billion crowns going to education. That's roughly four billion more than this year. It may not seem like much, but the total budget expenditures will decrease by 31 billion to 2,192 billion, so education has priority as far as possible. Education expenses will reach 12.3 percent of total budget expenditures.

Do you feel that there's enough money in the education system, then?
No, that's not what I mean at all. Funding for the education system needs to keep growing. After all, it's a fact that within the OECD framework, meaning in comparison with other developed countries, the financing relative to GDP that goes to education here is relatively small, and we're nowhere near the mythical level of five percent of gross domestic product. That's the usual level of expenses in the OECD.

Either way, the real education expenses – meaning after inflation – will actually decrease compared to this year.
Yes. Our budget is in a dire situation that requires decisive measures. We plan to keep looking for ways to lessen the impact on the education system. I see potential in redirecting funding into school infrastructure in some way because the situation there is truly bleak in certain regions. On the other hand – teachers will be one of the few public servant groups whose wages will grow relatively significantly. However, the decrease in real education expenses means that the whole system needs to become more efficient. As an economist, I would say here that workforce productivity needs to increase. That applies to all structures, institutions, ministries, and organizations that receive public funding. First of all, it's the right thing to do, and second, we are being forced into it by the grave situation in government finances.

Showcase of the construction plan for the Pod Skalkou Association School in Mníšek pod Brdy

Nevertheless, the opposition keeps insisting that no major cutbacks are necessary. That is what Karel Havlíček said, for instance. Where lies the truth, then?
If we keep running deficits of 370, 350, or 320 billion per year for the next decade, how will we fare? That would mean another 3.5 trillion crowns of debt. Can we afford that? Some might say we can. We, on the other hand, say that we don't want to burden our children and grandchildren with many more additional trillions of new debt. I understand that there are people who don't mind that. My view is as follows: next year, we'll pay 95 billion crowns in just interest on our debt. That represents more than 100 medium to large schools that we won't be building. Simple as that.

Let me rephrase my question. Is money the biggest issue that the Czech education system has?
It depends on your point of view. I'll start with that of an economist. Here, I must point out that expenses can potentially grow indefinitely and they can keep growing without having a commensurate effect on quality. It sounds a little like one of Professor Parkinson's laws but it is a fact. Let's say that we doubled our education expenses. Would the quality of the education system also double? It wouldn't because that's not how things work. On the other hand, the fact is that the Czech education system has been severely underfunded for many years. Furthermore, in the last twenty years, there have been at least two instances where the state failed to capture a demographic leap, it either failed to react to increasing birth rates completely or it selfishly left the decision up to the municipalities and regions. That further exacerbated the financial insecurity of the education system, both in terms of wages and investments. So, our past indecisiveness is now coming back to bite us, and many of those who failed to react in the past are now criticizing the government for missing the signs. But we now need schools that should have been built years ago.

Are you alluding to this year's crisis of insufficient high school capacities?
Not only that. Capacities are missing on multiple levels. We don't have preschools, which is a nationwide problem; many places are dealing with critical kindergarten shortages; capacities are often lacking in primary schools; in other areas, it's high schools instead. I sometimes hear people say that things aren't so bad on a nationwide level. An absurd argument. Allow me to use an analogy. If you're standing with one foot in hot coals and one foot in ice-cold water, it's statistically quite pleasant. The same applies to the statement that we have sufficient capacities nationwide.

Visit to the Netvořice Kindergarten

That seems as though the municipalities are doing things wrong...
No. The state has been doing things wrong, again and again for at least two decades. We have our overall tax and financial systems set up in a certain way. If essentially any municipality or city in this country wants to build something that requires a larger investment, it needs to "fit" into the funding program. Municipalities have their own finances but it's nowhere near the amount of money needed to pay for something like a school. All the while, every January, we have access to statistics of new births as well as their locations. We also know – at least roughly – how people moved around, we're even able to work out general estimates of future relocations thanks to planned and ongoing construction. In any case, we have a decently reliable way of estimating how much capacity will be needed in schools. And despite that, the state still hasn't created enough funding programs that would provide adequate financing.

Why?
I don't actually know. During my time as an opposition MP in the Chamber, we pointed this out many times; certain ministers of education even tried to do something about it. Perhaps they didn't have sufficient political support, but the solutions that were implemented were truly flawed and inefficient. On the other hand – various mayors have been able to conjure new schools out of thin air or get funding for school refurbishments and expansions, they managed to pool together funding from school programs and energy savings initiatives, and so on. But it took them so much more work and effort than it would have if the state was managed efficiently.

So, it's inefficiency that's plaguing the education system?
That goes for the state in general. We have an inefficient system and we're now doing battle against it in an attempt to reform it.

CV BOX
Věra Kovářová (born January 20, 1964, in Prague) is the First Deputy Speaker of the Chamber and a member of the STAN Movement board.
She graduated in international business from the University of Economics and later completed the Master of International Management postgraduate program at European Business School Prague.
Between 1990 and 2000, she worked as an instructor of business German at European Business School Prague, and later for another 13 years as a German translator and instructor.
Kovářová was the deputy mayor of the Chýně municipality for two years from 2006, later becoming the mayor, and holding the position for another two years, then going on to serve as a member of the Central Bohemian Regional Assembly from 2008 to 2020.
In 2013, she saw success in the parliamentary election and was elected an MP. She is a member of the STAN board.
Kovářová enjoys art shows, theater plays, and the arts in general. She is a part of the Chýně-based choir, Chláchol, which she co-founded, she also played basketball competitively for 17 years (winning several state championships).
She is married and has a daughter, Klára.

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