Amendments for the 248/2015 Law, an incentive for the impoverished children’s participation in kindergarten and preschool.
Since 2016 the Romanian State granted monthly 50 lei (11 Eur) food coupons for the impoverished families, to increase, on a long term, the children’s participation in kindergarten and preschool and to prevent early school abandonment. Each year, the 248/2015 Law is applied by allocating public funds from the state budget to the 80.000 – 100.000 impoverished children to stimulate their attendance and to prevent them dropping out early Still, official data shows that only half of the children benefit from this law. Therefore, a mixed group of deputies and senators filed for the amendment of the 248/2015 Law, proposing to increase the number of the impoverished children to benefit from it. The financial support will help the children to attend kindergarten and preschool daily. The amendments were initiated by Reality Check, after a strong monitoring of the 248/2015 Law and after consultations with the local, the county and the national specialists.
The 248/2015 Law that grants food coupons for the preschool children is part of a national program inspired by OvidiuRo’s program, Fiecare Copil în Grădiniță (Every Child in School and Kindergarten), implemented during 2010-2015 in 45 impoverished communities. The food coupons are provided on the condition that children attend preschool and kindergarten regularly and they help the parents cover some basic expenses needed for preschool: daily snack, school supplies, a pair of shoes. The efficiency of this incentive was confirmed by the increased number in the attendance, significantly improved after the law emerged. Before, the impoverished children’s attendance was, on average, under 50%. After 3 years of implementing the law, 74% of the children attended regularly.
Still, many parents did not access this incentive for various reasons. In the school year 2016-2017, only 70.000 children, out of the 110.000 estimated as potential beneficiaries, were enrolled in the program. In 2017-2018, only 46.500 children, out of 107.000, benefited from this program. This school year, maximum 45.000 children, out of the 79.000 estimated to be eligible, were enrolled in the program.
“We created this project for all the impoverished children, so that they can go to preschool and enjoy all its benefits: education, interaction, inclusion. These children must be included, we should not, and we cannot pretend they do not exist. Even if preschool is not mandatory, it is still essential, it opens children’s appetite for education and gives them the best chance at a decent life in society. The financial support provided to these impoverished children make it possible for them to attend preschool and, subsequently, other forms of education. It is our obligation to properly shape their future.”, stated Petre Florin Manole, the initiator of the request to amend the 248/2015 Law.
In 2018, Reality Check conducted an evaluation on how the law is being applied in some counties around the country. The study showed that in order to have a successful implementation of the law, the following conditions must be considered: (1) there must be a more tolerant community; the teachers, the social assistants and the parents of the children coming from a better social class should encourage the impoverished children’s attendance (2) at least one public institution must be the engine for the law implementation and help the poor parents enroll their children and apply for the food coupons. ” Unfortunately, these conditions are not yet met in many counties across the country. This law has a huge potential to change the life of the impoverished children for the better and the public funds from the state budget are there to support it – but the state cannot manage to make it available to all the children who need help. This is why we made recommendations to simplify the law and make it more accessible. We continue to work together with the members of the Parliament, with the specialists within the Government and with the county public authorities to improve the implementation of this law” stated Alina Seghedi, the President of Reality Check.
Reality Check identified a few obstacles in the law implementation: some of the poor and uneducated parents are not aware of the existence of this law or don’t know how to apply for it or they encounter difficulties in obtaining the necessary documents that they have to submit to the City Hall – if in these communities, the teachers or the social assistants will not offer support to the parents and will not proactively recruit the children for preschool and register them in the program, the children won’t benefit from this law. It was also noticed: the value of the food coupons (50 lei per month), established in 2010, must be increased. Taking into consideration the expenses involved in sending a child to preschool and the increased inflation, their value is too small. Also, the income threshold is too small (284 lei per family member per month) and once the minimum wage was increased, many low-income families were not eligible anymore for this incentive which is necessary to sustain a constant attendance of the preschool children.
The legislative proposals that were submitted to the Parliament were formulated based on the discussions we had with the following concerned parties: parents, teachers, preschool principals, mayors, social assistants, representatives of: Prefecturas, County School Inspectorates, County Agencies for Payments and Social Inpection, and specialists from the Work&Social Justice and National Education Ministries.
These are the proposals for improving the law:
- change the eligibility criteria: from income of 248 lei/64 USD per family member per month, to all children who live in families that receive the supplementary family allowance (SFA) – this increases the threshold to 530 lei/120 USD per family member per month.
- simplify the application process, by completely eliminating the parents’ request to be admitted in the program – if the children live in families that benefit from SFA and are enrolled in preschool, they qualify automatically for the food coupons.
- increase the food coupon amount from 50 to 100 lei (from 11 to 22 USD) per child per month.
- make it mandatory for mayors and preschool principals to organize information and enrollment campaigns for the law, twice a year.
Reality Check and OvidiuRo started an awareness campaign about the importance of preschool. The campaign is aiming to reach many of the poor parents who are not aware of the law and of the benefits of early education on their children’s educational future and life.
Press contact: Iolanda Burtea, firstname.lastname@example.org, 0726 840 791