The Council of Ministers approved the changes in the Financing Ordinance, which guarantee the long-awaited funding for educational mediators
At its meeting of 07/05/2023, the Council of Ministers approved changes to the Ordinance on the financing of educational institutions. Through them, from 01.07.2023, the state budget will provide a special resource to schools and kindergardens with a concentration of vulnerable groups for the appointment of educational mediators, social workers and teacher’s assistants. In this way, the Ministry of Education and Science secured the salaries of those employed under the National Program “Support for educational mediators”, which closed on 30.06. What is foreseen in the Ordinance and what should the principals of schools and kindergartens do?
What does the amended Ordinance provide?
The most important thing in the amended Ordinance on financing is the provision of a special resource for the appointment of educational mediators in schools with a concentration of vulnerable groups. It has been planned since July 1. The schools will receive the specific amounts after the approval of the National Budget, but in any case they can already have the allocated funds with a retroactive date from July 1. This is extremely important, since the National Program “Support for Educational Mediators” ended on June 30. Center Amalipe has repeatedly informed about the upcoming change in the Ordinance on financing and appeals to the directors not to lay off their mediators. Many responded to this appeal and retained educational mediators/social workers. Other directors cut their mediators short or offered them 4-hour employment contracts under the “Success for You” project. It is clear from the adopted Decision of the Council of Ministers that the schools will have funds to continue the activities of the mediators from July 1.
Through the decision of the Council of Ministers to change the Ordinance on financing, the Ministry of Education responded to the desire of teachers, mediators and NGO experts to continue the employment of mediators working under the National Program, as well as to find a more sustainable way to finance salaries of mediators. The adopted solution is not perfect, but it is significantly better than the previous ones. Through it, schools with a concentration of vulnerable groups will receive special funding from the State Budget to continue the work of the appointed mediators from July 1, 2023. Thus, the mediators working under the National Program should not be laid off. From 2024 such funding will also be provided for other schools with a concentration of vulnerable groups, as well as for kindergartens. In this way, the financing of the salaries of the mediators will be provided by the State Budget without depending on the desire of a minister to continue or not a certain National Program.
It is also very important that the allocation of funds for work with vulnerable groups under Art. 52a of the Financing Ordinance. That is, the resource for mediators’ salaries will not be at the expense of the remaining funds received from schools and kindergartens with a concentration of vulnerable groups. In the conditions of political instability and budget constraints, this is a serious success.
A disadvantage of the solution found is that it only applies to schools and Kindergartens with a concentration of vulnerable groups. Ethnically mixed schools and Kindergartens in which children from families with low education are less than 20% will not be able to receive this resource. As we know, in some of them a real integration process is taking place and mediators are needed. It is necessary to provide such a resource for these schools from next year as well.
Another change in the regulation is the transformation of the financing of municipal children’s years into an activity fully delegated by the state. This is done in view of the abolition of kindergarten fees.
How this success was achieved?
Over the past five years, educational mediators have proven their key role in preventing school dropouts and returning all children and students to classrooms. They have established themselves as an indisputable assistant to teachers in working with parents, especially from vulnerable groups and the Roma community.
Despite the indisputable benefit of the work of educational mediators and social workers, for a long time no sustainable way was found to ensure their employment. Initially, school mediators and social workers were employed by the Success Support Project, which ended a year ago. Then (for 6 months) they were financed by the National Program “Support for Educational Mediators and Social Workers”, which ended on 31.12.2022. Thanks to the active advocacy of Center Amalipe and over 200 schools, it was extended by another 6 months until 30.06.2023. At the beginning of April, the Ministry of Obro and the then Minister of Education, Prof. Penov, announced their intention not to renew the National Program, but to ask the schools themselves to cover the salaries of the mediators.
This prompted the informal Network of Educational Mediators, Amalipe and dozens of schools and organizations to organize an advocacy campaign for the continued employment of educational mediators. The initiative brought together 60 organizations in a joint letter to Minister Penov and Galab Donev, including Together in an Hour, Parents Association, the National Network of Health Mediators, the National Network for Children and a number of other organizations working at the local and national level. The letter was also supported by all social partners in education – the two teachers’ unions and the two employers’ unions of school principals. There are few cases of such joint support for an educational initiative.
At the same time, at the end of April and the beginning of May, the educational mediators organized the collection of physical signatures, and in 12 days, more than 21,000 citizens from all over the country signed. You can see information here.
Letters of support were sent by the National Ombudsman and other institutions. Key embassies, including the Ambassadorial Group on Roma issues (it unites fourteen ambassadors – of the USA, Great Britain, Switzerland and the main EU countries) also sent an inquiry to the then Minister of Education Prof. Penov. We also informed the Committee on Education and Science of the 49th National Assembly. People’s representatives Elisaveta Belobradova, Krasimir Valchev and Academician Denkov put a question to Minister Penov during a meeting of the Commission, insisting on finding a solution quickly. See information here.
We also used the procedure for public consultations, as a large number of organizations, directors, teachers and mediators sent opinions on the proposed National Programs in Education, insisting on the continuation of the National Program “Support for Educational Mediators”: 124 opinions out of a total of 160 contain this proposal.
Despite this unprecedented civil pressure, Minister Penov showed no visible commitment to keeping the mediators. Things changed radically after the change in the Ministry of Education. Already on June 9, the newly elected Minister of Education Prof. Tsokov, the head of the political cabinet Nataliya Michalevska and experts from the Directorate of Finance of the Ministry of Education participated online in the Round Table “Perspectives for the Sustainability of Educational Mediators”. They proposed a sustainable solution for the payment of educational mediators, and through a change in the Ordinance on financing, a special resource will be allocated for the employment of educational mediators and social workers in schools and kindergartens with a concentration of vulnerable groups. As a continuation of this conversation, on June 23, an online meeting was held with over 160 mediators and school principals, in which representatives of the Ministry of Education also participated. More details on the expected change in the Financing Ordinance were discussed there.
Amalipe Center thanks Minister Tsokov, Mrs. Michalevska and all colleagues from the Ministry of Education and Culture who worked for the proposed solution, which ensures the continuation and sustainability of educational mediators! We thank the People’s Representatives Elisaveta Belobradova and Krasimir Valchev, as well as the current Prime Minister Academician Denkov, who raised the issue in the National Assembly and offered basic guidelines for the solution found! Our gratitude is also deep to the non-governmental organizations, social partners and all institutions that supported the request to find a sustainable solution for the salaries of educational mediators!
It is necessary to find a solution for the payment of mediators in schools and Kindergartens without concentration of vulnerable groups. It is particularly important to continue efforts to approve educational mediators as a profession and for their training, as well as to facilitate the opportunities for some educational mediators to complete higher pedagogical education and become full-fledged teachers.