The Flemish education sector is once again sounding the alarm bells, this time with greater urgency, warning that schools are seeing their financial resources being drastically reduced, which in turn is impacting the quality of education.
Inflation is continuing to skyrocket, not only impacting the purchasing power of businesses and families but also of schools, which have lost 20% to 40% of purchasing power lost between 2008 and 2022 and are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet, while challenges faced by the sector are progressively growing.
"A combination of external factors and government decisions are making it harder for schools every year to make their budgets work," Lieven Boeve, Director-General of Catholic Education Flanders, the umbrella organisation for education in Flanders, said.
"This is detrimental to the quality of education. The cries for help regarding the financial viability of schools continue to grow."
This was confirmed by Paul Buyck on behalf of the Overleg Kleine Onderwijsverstrekkers, a collaboration of four various forms of education, who stressed that there is a "financial limit to the resilience of schools."
"Our schools are challenged to offer quality education free of charge to children in a diverse society. This is not evident today."
"In addition to the structural problem of the shortage of teachers, we are faced with high bills that have a negative effect on our educational scope. The pressure on schools is high. We ask for a sustainable policy on the level of staff as well as on the financial level."
€300 million lost
The key players in the education sector have created a memorandum, headlined "Even after the pandemic, schools must remain open," in which they plea for help for the entire Dutch-speaking education sector in Flanders and the Brussels-Capital Region.
While the effect of inflation increases the costs of schools — think rising energy prices and renovation costs — revenues have not followed, and the indexation of the operating funds, which has been non-existent or incomplete, has further worsened this situation.
As a result of this, schools lose more purchasing power every year. For 2021-22, the deficit compared to the reference year 2008-09 is about €300 million.
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Walentina Cools, General Director of the Educational Association of Towns and Municipalities (OVSG), stressed that schools do not want parents and pupils to foot the bill. "Everyone should have access to quality education, that is a basic right."
Structural investments needed
The groups called on the government to solve this issue structurally by allocating extra operating funds to compensate for the historical savings and translate an increase or decrease in pupil numbers into an equally large increase or decrease in operating subsidies.
Boeven also stressed that investments that are made must be in line with educational needs, which requires a stable and reliable investment framework, and for schools' voices to be heard in this.
In response to the organisations' statement, Flemish Minister of Education Ben Weyts said the education budget has risen sharply since the start of this government. "There will be an additional €2.4 billion this term - there is no other area of competence in Flanders where the budget is rising as much as in Education."
"Of course, everything can still be better. I am well aware that schools are having a hard time in the current circumstances. That is why I want to continue the momentum of extra resources in the coming years," Beke added.