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Blundered with the teacher's fair

Last summer, 2400 teachers missed out on the teacher's grant after government parties looted the subsidy pot. A political slip that could easily have been prevented, according to a reconstruction by the Onderwijsblad.

Floortje Kootte sees rejected when she logs in to MijnDUO in early August 2020. A few months earlier, the classical languages ​​teacher at the Utrechts Stedelijk Gymnasium signed up for the teachers' grant, because she wants to follow a mathematics course at the VU University. “I really enjoy studying and I wanted to do something that is really different from Latin and Greek,” she says.

A study with a hefty price tag: in her case 11 thousand euros in institutional tuition fees per year. The teacher's grant of 7 euros would therefore be more than welcome. "I found the rejection very annoying, also for the school," said Kootte. At that time all preparations had already been made at her school. Fitting schedules have been put together and a teacher has been hired to replace her from September during her weekly study leave hours, which would also be paid for by the teachers' grant. She herself was not completely comfortable about it, but the school management saw it brightly. Why not? In previous years there has always been money left in the subsidy pot. "My rector was absolutely sure: you will get that grant, no doubt about it."

I A political deal

The autumn before. At the Binnenhof in The Hague, the coalition parties are preparing for the discussion of the 2020 education budget. It is an opportunity to tinker with the use of education money in view of the worrying teacher shortage. At the VVD they expect a lot from side entrants. There is great enthusiasm and you have to tackle those potential teachers with both hands. That is why Member of Parliament Rudmer Heerema has drafted an amendment to supplement the subsidy pool for side entrants.

“We saw that the side influx came to a complete stop and that money was needed,” he says now, looking back. That money has to come from somewhere. “Then you look with the ministry to see whether a financing direction can be found. In view of the fact that historically there was always money left over at the teacher's fair, there were opportunities to use it. Otherwise it will go back to the treasury. ” How much money is left annually at the teachers fair, Heerema is known "globally". But he leaves the research to the department. "That contact goes through the personal assistant of the minister."

'If you know how the sausage is made… these kinds of amendments do not just come out of the blue, they have been extensively coordinated with the ministry itself'

Fellow MP and coalition member Paul van Meenen (D66) endorses how it works behind the scenes. "If you know how the sausage is made ... these kinds of amendments do not just come out of the blue, they have been extensively coordinated with the ministry itself."

Eighteen million euros has been found for the side entrants. It is the biggest of three proposals submitted jointly by the four coalition parties. With Slob's blessing, almost thirty million euros will be taken from the teachers' grant. Money that would otherwise just remain, the MPs assume. Minister Slob gives his blessing to the proposals. Supported by much of the opposition, they are accepted.

II The minister reassures

It is not the first time that the teachers' grant has been scaled back. This has happened more often in recent years due to the declining applications. From 106 million in 2017 to 94 million in 2018 and 82 million in 2019. In 2020 the budget was 78 million, but after the intervention by the Lower House, 49,6 million will remain. DUO will distribute a message about this in February. The AOb-website reports the news on February 18: there is enough money for all repeat applications (from teachers who are already studying), but a limited budget for new applications.

During a debate the next day SGP MP Roelof Bisschop raises the alarm about this. Is there still enough in the pot? But Minister Slob subtly points out to the SGP member that he has also supported the cutbacks on the teachers' grant and believes that there should be no doubts. He reassures the House of Representatives. “You know how it works in the case of under-depletion: if you notice at the end of the year that something has not been used, it goes to the treasury. Now we could keep it for education and also use it in a good way. ”

Asked for a review, Bisschop responds by e-mail: "In retrospect, it is a bit bitter that the scenario has nevertheless occurred that the commitment to the teachers' grant has been frustrated." He calls the shifting of residual amounts between subsidy jars within the budget “juggling”. It turns out that it is not without risks for politicians and it cannot be explained to normal citizens.

'In retrospect it is a bit bitter that the scenario nevertheless occurred that the commitment to the teachers' grant is frustrated'

Six months later, it appears that no fewer than 2400 teachers have been denied a response. All teachers who would love to start a study. Floortje Kootte calls DUO, she wants to know why her application was rejected. Maybe she did something wrong? "No, no, they said at DUO, the money had run out."

She would have liked to know that sooner. She submitted an application at the beginning of June (the term runs from April 1 to June 30), but by then there were probably so many repeat applications that hers had no chance in advance. But at DUO the balance is only drawn up after the application period has closed.

In preparation for her studies, she threw herself into math during the holidays. “I once passed VWO Mathematics B with a six, but that was 25 years ago. I thought it would be useful to pick up everything again. ”

It seems to have been for nothing, because coughing up eleven thousand euros annually is a bit too much. But Kootte is lucky. Just before the start of the new school year she receives a message from school board Nuovo, her employer. She will be fully reimbursed for the training costs this year. “I am really happy with that. I think it's a really nice study and it's going well. ”

III The surpluses

It is not known how many teachers are supported by their board, just like Kootte. It is also unclear how many teachers pay for the training from their own business, or how many teachers have abandoned their studies. The DUO executive organization does not have that information, a spokesperson said.

DUO will provide other figures at the request of the Education Journal. Because the pressing question is of course: how much has happened in recent years at the teachers fair? In a comprehensive answer These figures are remarkably lacking in the questions that Slob sends to the House of Representatives in early September, full of tables and figures.

The DUO statement shows that the surpluses are limited: 14 million in 2017, 14 million in 2018 and 7,6 million in 2019. Significantly less than the coalition parties obtained from the subsidy fund.

“No, I was not aware of that,” says VVD MP Heerema in response to the figures. “I was told that enough would remain, I assumed that. That is how I am used to it politically, this is the first time that it is not right. ”

GroenLinks MP Lisa Westerveld, who supported two of the three coalition amendments, was also not aware of these figures, she says via Whatsapp. “We were not aware of that. Last summer I also looked into what was said about it in the budget debates at the time and this did not come to the fore. Another factor is that if a minister gives a positive opinion on an amendment, you assume that it is financially sound. ”

'I also voted in favor, albeit because the minister said it was possible. But we're all part of the problem '

SP Member of Parliament Peter Kwint: “If the minister repeatedly says that there will be no problems with the teacher fair and that we can also combat the teacher shortage, then that is not such a difficult decision. I also voted in favor, albeit because the minister said it was possible. But we are all part of the problem. ”

EUR 71,6 million would have been needed to grant all applications. Compared to the original budget of 78 million, there would indeed have been more money left. Thanks to the political intervention, there was now almost 22 million shortages.

D66 Member of Parliament Paul van Meenen believes that the House of Representatives should put its hand into its own bosom. “We could have looked at it more critically. Not to exonerate ourselves, but Slob has consistently confirmed in debates that it was all good, such as with the questions from the SGP. His officials look at those budgets all day, we don't. The Chamber is not well informed. That only happened in August, when we immediately took action. ”

IV Riot in the Chamber, division in the coalition

During the summer to speak political parties shame, coalition parties CDA and D66 in the lead. A large majority supports a motion by CDA, D66, GroenLinks, SP and PvdA calling on the minister to come up with a solution quickly. It exposes divisions within the coalition: VVD and ChristenUnie vote against. “Because that motion was not appropriate”, VVD member Heerema looks back. “The minister indicated that he could not implement the motion. I think that as a Member of Parliament you send an incorrect signal to lecturers. You often see on Twitter: look, our motion has been passed! You create false expectations. ”

But if the motion had been supported by Parliament, wouldn't you have sent a stronger signal to the minister? Heerema: “I don't think that would have made much difference. And besides, that money also has to get rid of something. Do you want to take money away from side entrants or the corona compensation? ”

On Budget Day turns out structural cuts in the teachers' grant, for 2021 and 2022 even a few million euros less has been booked. That is the consequence of another procedure by the House of Representatives to transfer money to combat the teacher shortage. Nevertheless, Minister Slob a month later the door itself ajar again, pressed by coalition members D66 and CDA and opposition party SP. He promises to appeal to Finance Minister Hoekstra to look into the autumn memorandum. That is the last chance to work on the budget for 2020.

'Unfortunately we do not see any possibilities to grant the rejected applications this year'

But when the autumn bill is released a few weeks before the Christmas recess, nothing has happened. "Unfortunately, we do not see any possibilities to grant the rejected applications this year," said a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education. Rejected teachers can try again next year, they will then be given priority treatment. But that is of no use to the teachers who now pay for the training out of their own pocket.

That is why SP'er Kwint serves an amendment to adjust the autumn bill. It turns out that there are some windfalls and because they are small enough, they do not have to go back to the treasury, but they move on to the new year. He wants to reserve part of it for the teacher's fair. Not that teachers will have the money in their account within a week, but still. “I've been hearing everyone shouting for months that they want to arrange this and now it is already mid-December,” explains Kwint. “It is not acceptable that teachers should be the victims anyway. If we don't arrange it now, I don't want to hear about the coalition parties anymore. ”

'It is not acceptable for teachers to be the victim now anyway. If we don't arrange it now, I don't want to hear from the coalition parties about it anymore '

D66 is also not done with it, said MP Van Meenen by telephone two days before the vote. "We have always been clear about this: this problem must be solved." That is why he himself intends to make an amendment. Preferably together with colleague Michel Rog of the CDA, who has since taken office as councilor in Haarlem and did not respond to requests for an explanation. The D66 member still keeps a small blow to the arm. “It has to be coordinated within the coalition to check whether it is actually possible, budget-wise. But I would say: if the House wants it… ”

Immediately after recess, the uproar fizzles out, without the promised solution. 'Cannot be done according to the budget rules', Van Meenen says the day after the vote. I can't get it through, tried everything. New opportunities in the spring. Unfortunately! ' The SP's proposal is four votes short and is voted down by the coalition parties.

V Political school

With the stripped-down budget, the space for new applications for the teacher fair is again tight this year, DUO expects. The question is what the future looks like for the stock market. With the acute teacher shortage, some parties prefer to direct more money towards concrete goals that directly contribute to the recruitment of new teachers, such as a side enrollment subsidy.

Whether the money for the teachers' fair will be replenished again is a topic for after the elections as far as VVD'er Heerema is concerned. In any case, he does not think it would be a good idea to take money away from side entrants again. En passant he points to the school boards. "I can imagine that employers themselves say: we value the quality of our people and invest in that professionalization ourselves."

'This is a learning experience for me. I really regret that this went like this'

The irony is that the increased subsidy for side entrants has not been used up last year. As the number of applications turned out lower, 2,5 million euros remained. Not a whole lot, but the equivalent of a few hundred teacher grants nonetheless.

“This is a learning experience for me”, Heerema answers when asked what lesson can be learned from the whole affair. “As soon as we receive signals from the ministry, we will also check the amounts more closely from now on. I really regret that this turned out to be the case. But the money was spent on a good destination. ”

“It is unsatisfactory that formalistic budget hassles in the wheels of people in education,” concludes SGP MP Bisschop. His advice: “Choose a different scheme as soon as possible that simply offers enough space and clarity. For anyone who wants to continue training in education and to tackle the teacher shortage. For policy points that really have priority, implementation and finances should not get in the way. ”

Slobs' sackcloth

How could Minister Slob give his blessing to amendments that got far more money from the teachers' grant than was left over annually? His spokesperson does not answer that question. She refers to a debate in the House of Representatives last September in which Slob donned the fine coat.

In it, Slob says: “We had indeed been under-exhausted in the years before. In the end it turned out to be these amendments, of which I have also seen now ... I mean: I may have known then - but in all sincerity I will of course give you the answers here - that if you added the amounts, they naturally went further than the under-exhaustion that was there before (...)

I should indeed have said in February that we were concerned. That did not happen. I care about that. After all, you know me: I always try to include you as completely as possible in the topics and the information that I have. I also have no interest in holding that back, because you see what kind of situation is arising now (...)

In retrospect, we should perhaps have discussed that much more. It is also not the case that we people who have asked us for information have just fooled. Because you also know that you will always get it back by return mail. So we simply acted in good conscience here. ”

This article appeared in abbreviated form in the February issue of the Onderwijsblad. Also read the other articles about the teachers' fair on this site.

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