STA, 26 June 2019 - The parliamentary legal service has issued its opinion on the controversial bill on the funding of private primary schools related to a Constitutional Court decision, saying it is questionable in several places from the aspect of constitutional order, and even unconstitutional in certain points.
The nine-page opinion was issued after the bill passed first reading in the National Assembly last week and as the parliamentary Education Committee was scheduled to debate it again today, but postponed the session after the legal opinion was issued.
Under the bill, private primary schools are to get full state funding to teach publicly approved curricula, with pre-school or after-school classes, which are otherwise a normal part of daily life at school, not financed at all.
In the amendments to the act on the financing of education, which is meant to implement a 2014 Constitutional Court ruling mandating full rather than just 85% state financing of publicly approved curricula at private primaries, any curricular content considered as above-standard will be exempted.
The parliamentary legal service says in its opinion the main shortcoming of the bill is the "strict focus of the initiator on realising very narrowly defined goals".
The government proposes broader and, in certain points inconsistent, changes to the existing education system compared to those demanded by the Constitutional Court, while not providing well argued reasons for this, it added.
The legal service has also made remarks on concrete articles, including the one on the funding of private primary schools, establishing that the proposed amount of public funds for this purpose would actually be lower compared to the current amount.
"The lower amount of public funding thus encroaches upon the legal position of private primary schools," it says, adding that private schools could transfer the burden of financing on the student's parents.
According to the legal service, this worsens the legal position of students and their parents, who could not count on such an initiative from the government in the wake of the Constitutional Court's decision.
It adds that the government has failed to explain what the public interest is that justifies the worsening of the legal position of private primary schools and their students and their parents.
There is also no explanation in the bill as to why the government is abolishing the co-funding of the part of the extended programme which is uniformly specified for all primary schools in Slovenia.
The bill also opens up several questions about compliance with the general principle of equality before the law, it says, adding the proposal that the educational programme of private schools must differ from that in public schools is also disputable.
What is more, the differentiation between publicly approved curricula and curricula that have gained public validity could be disputable from the aspect of the constitutional right to the freedom of expression, and from the aspect of the constitutional prohibition of discrimination based on personal circumstances.
Following the legal service's opinion, coalition parties met to discuss the new development, opting to postpone the Education Committee's session. The committee then put the debate off by a few days.
MP Marko Koprivc of the Social Democrats (SD), who gave the initiative for the postponement, said they had only just received the legal service's opinion, so they had not had the time to study it yet.
Education Minister Jernej Pikalo welcomed the committee's decision to postpone the session, saying it was right the legal service's opinion was studied, "especially if we want to have quality legislation".
Nevertheless, he defended the solution to fund the mandatory part of publicly approved curricula 100% and not to fund any extra activities at all. He insists this is in line with the court's ruling.
However, since last week, the opposition has already filed a number of amendments. The Democrats (SDS) would not just like private primary schools which teach publicly approved curricula to get full state funding, they also propose that private music and secondary schools get 85% of its costs covered by the state.
During last week's parliamentary debate, only the parties of the minority coalition supported the bill, but some of them only under certain conditions. Some of them announced their final opinion would depend on the opinion of the parliament's legal service, so further changes during the legislative seem possible.