Bill approved to make pre-school education free in Belgium’s French speaking community
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    Bill approved to make pre-school education free in Belgium’s French speaking community

    © Belga
    © Belga

    The education commission in the parliament of the French Community has unanimously approved a draft decree aimed at gradually making pre-school education free. From the start of the next school year, in September, parents of infants starting at nursery school may no longer have to pay a series of fees.

    The new bill, which follows a recommendation by the community’s Pact for Excellence, defines school fees, additional fees, those that can be charged to parents, and the modalities according to which this can be done.

    For example, schools will no longer be able to ask parents to contribute financially towards the purchase of school materials such as markers or paint. To compensate for this loss of income, the schools will receive an annual supplement of 60 euros per child.

    Parents will now only need to supply a bookbag, possibly an empty pencil box, gym clothing, diapers if needed, and handkerchiefs. They will also be required to provide their children with a meal and snacks.

    However, schools will still be authorised to request money to ensure supervision at midday or certain cultural and sports activities, up to an annual ceiling set of 45 euros per child. This excludes swimming, for which parents will be billed separately, but at cost price. 

    Any school that fails to comply with the new rules will receive a warning and, if necessary, a fine. If it continues to do so, it could lose its operational subsidy.

    The bill also includes measures for keeping parents well informed of the new financial provisions, which will take effect in September 2019, for the first year of pre=school, in 2020 for Year 2 and, finally, in 2021 for Year 3.

    The cost for the Frech Community has been estimated at 3.8 million euros for Year 1, seven million for Year 2 and 10 million for Year III.

    This move to make pre-school free should have begun in September 2018 but was finally postponed for a year by the federal government. Its extension to primary or secondary school has been left up to the new ruling majority to be voted in at the May election.

    The budgetary impact of such an extension is yet to be determined.

    Jason Bennett
    The Brussels Times