Place guarantee to ECEC
There is no universal legal guarantee to a place in early childhood education and care (ECEC) for children under the age of 6 years. For 6-year-olds, a 1-year pre-primary programme prior to starting school is compulsory. For those already attending ECEC, the compulsory pre-primary programme is integrated within their existing provision, whereas those not already attending ECEC must attend other pre-primary provision. According to the State Pedagogical Standard of Early Childhood Education and Care, the pre-primary programme normally comprises a total of 250 hours and runs from 1 October to 31 May. However, where local circumstances make it difficult to run the full programme, a reduced programme may be offered with a minimum of 150 hours. The compulsory pre-primary programme runs for 4–7 hours per week.
ECEC is not free of charge. Fees are charged for educational and care activities during the entire period of ECEC. ECEC is free of charge only for a small number of children who start compulsory pre-primary classes without previously being enrolled in kindergarten. This applies to about 7 % of the cohort each year (9 861 children in 2019/2020 according to the statistics authority).
The monthly fees are established by kindergarten owners in accordance with the State Pedagogical Standard of Early Childhood Education and Care. Information for parents or guardians on the government’s website indicates that the full price for the standard ECEC programme is EUR 200–330 per month, depending on the institution. However, parents or guardians pay only part of this cost, and in most cities and municipalities the monthly fee that parents or guardians need to pay does not exceed EUR 110.
Pursuant to the Act on Preschool Education and Care, ECEC is financed mainly from the budget of local and regional self-government units and by parents’ or guardians’ contributions to the cost of the preschool programmes in which their children are involved. Certain public programmes are co-financed from the state budget, namely:
- pre-primary educational programmes for children who have not previously attended kindergarten;
- special programmes for children with disabilities;
- programmes for children belonging to national minorities;
- programmes for gifted children.
Children from Roma backgrounds are targeted by legal entitlement measures and their participation in ECEC settings is fully funded. The Ministry of Science and Education covers the parental part of the fees. Children from ethnic minorities attend programmes in their native language. Furthermore, a free preschool programme for children 2 years prior to primary education is available for children from Roma backgrounds who have not previously participated in ECEC. Children from other regional or ethnic minorities are not included in this targeted legal entitlement.