Denmark drops plans to slash subsidies for free schools

Denmark's new government has abandoned an attempt to cut 300m Danish kroner ($44m) from the annual subsidy given to privately-run schools in Denmark.

Denmark drops plans to slash subsidies for free schools
Children play at Taastrup Private School outside Copenhagen. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix
The cuts would have meant about 3,000 kroner less per pupil going annually to the schools. 
The schools, which are privately run but subsidised by the state, include schools teaching in English, German and French, schools serving Jewish and Muslim minorities, and schools following different pedagogical ideas. 
“I was very worried yesterday, because it would have been a huge challenge for all the schools to lose five percent of their state subsidies,” said Peter Bendix Pedersen, Chairman of the Danish Free Schools Association. 
“If it's going to be a real possibility for everyone to send their children to a free school in Denmark, then the subsidy has to be high.” 
The ruling Social Democrats dropped the proposal after facing stiff opposition in budget negotiations on Monday evening, with both their allies the Social Liberal Party and the opposition Liberal Party opposing the plan. 
“The free schools and all the children and parents who use them can breathe a sigh of relief,” the Social Liberal Party's leader, Morten Østergaard told the Ritzau newswire on Monday night. 
“We have eliminated one of the cuts that to our great surprise found its way into the Social Democrats' budget proposals.”
The government had proposed cutting the subsidy for free schools from 76 percent of the average cost of a pupil at a normal state-run school, to 71 percent, aiming to use the money to increase spending on state-run schools. 
“As we said before the election, we want to prioritise state schools,” Finance Minister Nicolai Wammen said as he announced the proposal. 
Pedersen said that if the cuts had gone ahead, schools would have had to either reduce the quality of the education they provide or increase fees for parents, with some smaller schools in rural areas probably forced to shut down. 
“Maybe the parents would have had to pay more for their school fees, and some parents wouldn't be able to pay more than now,” he said. 
Denmark pioneered free schools, with the system established more than 150 years ago with the 1855 Free Schools Act. 
Unlike in neighbouring Sweden, free schools must be non-profit institutions if they are to receive state subsidies. 
The number of free schools has increased in recent years, with parents frequently opening new a free school when the government shuts down small schools in rural areas.  
There are currently 550 free schools in the country with about 110,000 pupils. Approximately 18 percent of all primary school children currently attend a free school. 

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Schools to close in Copenhagen suburb after infection surge

Denmark's health authorities have yet again closed schools for the youngest children in the Copenhagen suburb of Ishøj, in a push to reduce infection in the municipality.

Schools to close in Copenhagen suburb after infection surge
The youngest children were the first to return to the classroom on Monday. Photo: Anthon Unger/Ritzau Scanpix
The children in years 0 to 4 (6 to 11 years old) had only returned to the classroom five days ago on Monday.
“The infection rate needs to go down in Ishøj Municipality, where the infection curve has seen a sharp 67 percent rise since the beginning of February,” Denmark's health minister Magnus Heunicke said in a press statement issued on Friday evening. 
“We are therefore imposing stricter measures on the municipality to make sure we act on time.” 
The children will be taught by distance learning for one week until the start of the winter break on February 19th, and will then return to school after the break is over on February 28th. 
As well as the school closures, the government is calling on all  residents in the municipality to get tested next week, regardless of symptoms, and has also set up a local task force, to work to drive down infection in the municipality. 
A hundred additional contact tracers have been sent to the municipality to identify new chains of infection. 
“This requires a joint effort from all citizens in Ishøj Municipality,” Heunicke said. “I am making a big appeal to the municipality's citizens for everyone to now work to break the municipality's infection curve.” 
According to Denmark's state broadcaster DR, over the last week 71 residents of the municipality have tested positive for coronavirus, giving it a case rate of 300 per 100,000 citizens. 
Older pupils in Denmark are still being taught by distance learning until at least February 28th.