Cities rebel against gov’t daycare limits

A government plan to save 54 million euros in spending on early years education has run into difficulties with some municipalities. Helsinki and Tampere are among the councils who’ve said they won’t limit children’s right to daycare—but other cities are pressing ahead with the cuts.

Image: Yle

Several municipalities in Finland have decided not to implement the government’s plan to restrict rights to daycare and to increase group sizes in nurseries. Helsinki and Tampere are among those to vote against implementing the plan, while Joensuu is the latest to agree to do so—voting on Monday to limit children to 20 hours of daycare each week if their parents are not in work or studying.

The proposal to limit the right to daycare is meant to save 54 million euros from the annual state budget, and is part of a raft of spending cuts the government says will put the public finances back in shape.

In addition to limiting the right of some children to attend kindergarten depending on their parents’ employment status, the reform also proposed increasing the number of children per adult from seven to eight. That part of the change is expected to bring in 75 million euros in extra savings.

Job search not easier

It’s been roundly criticised by kindergarten teachers and unions, and several municipalities have opted to make up the shortfall in government income themselves. After Tampere council decided not to enforce the limits, the shop steward for kindergarten workers in the city explained her opposition to the cuts.

"Limits would have meant that not all children would have the same rights," said Eija Kamppuri. "Parents’ job search isn’t any easier if they only have twenty hours to apply for jobs and attend interviews."

It’s not just unions that oppose the changes in early years education. Sixten Korkman, one of Finland’s leading economists and no friend of trades unions, has also slammed the reform in the harshest possible terms.

Middle ground

"In practice the decision will affect mainly low-income and immigrant families," wrote Korkman in a column for Helsingin Sanomat. “The decision affects exactly the children that really need the support that our quality daycare centres offer. This decision was not made with the best interests of the child in mind. The decision is stupid and in the long run, it will cost us money."

There is also some middle ground between places like Vantaa, which will implement the government’s reform in full, and Tampere, which will not change anything. Espoo has voted to increase funding for early years education and will leave a decision on limiting the right to daycare till next year, when officials have prepared a report on the likely effects.

The ordering of that report reflects the new reality for municipal decision makers. Previously municipalities were obligated to provide full-time daycare for every child in the area. Now that’s optional. As Finland’s economic slump continues, pressure on municipal budgets is likely to worsen—and the possibility of cutting daycare spending might seem more attractive than it does at present.