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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Early childhood and school education funding


3.Funding in education

3.1Early childhood and school education funding

Last update: 29 March 2024


Pre-school education

The public funds allocated to pre-school education settings are the joint responsibility of the Ministry of EducationMinistry of Labour, Solidarity and Social Security, and local authorities. The public pre-school education network is totally funded by the state.

With regard to the private solidarity network, which includes the Private Social Solidarity Institutions (Instituições Particulares de Solidariedade Social - IPSS) charities and mutual associations, the state provides the institutions with financial support, paying the cost of the educational component and pedagogical quality, also contributing to family support and socio-educational activities.

On the private network, which includes private and cooperative schools, funding is based on the monthly fees paid by families, who may receive financial help, depending on family support contracts and their income.

Since September 2022, attending crèches and using the services of childminders, run by private not-for-profit institutions (IPSS) or legally equivalent institutions with a cooperation agreement with the MTSSS, has been free for all children born on or after 1 September 2021. This includes food, hygiene, educational, play and motor skills activities, registration and insurance, and extended hours. Likewise, all children in the 1st and 2nd income brackets for family contribution, regardless of their age, benefit from free attendance (Ordinance No. 198/2022, 27 July). From 1 January 2023, free daycare was extended to children born on or after 1 September 2021 who attend creches in the private for-profit network and IPSS without a cooperation agreement, located in municipalities where there are no free places at IPSS with a cooperation agreement or at Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa (SCML) (Ordinance No. 305/2022, 22 December).   

From 2024, all children up to the age of 3 enrolled in crèche are entitled to free crèche attendance, regardless of the type of provider (Ordinance No. 426/2023, 11 December).

Free attendance will accompany the child during the years they attend the crèche or use the services of a childminder.

Basic and secondary education

Every year, an individual budget is allocated to public schools and school clusters in basic (2nd and 3rd cycles) and upper secondary education calculated annually and based on the comparison between the budget proposed by the school and the criteria applied by the department responsible for the ME’s financial management.

The criteria include the number of students, the number of classes and specific school aspects (students’ social and economic background, local climatic conditions, the type of education, type and size of school facilities, and the number of establishments making up the cluster.)

Basic (2nd and 3rd cycles) and upper secondary education establishments are financed with funds from the ME’s state budget, community funds and own revenues.

The running costs are covered via resource allocation mechanisms and differ according to the education level.

In basic and upper secondary education, the public school budget includes a range of programmes and projects schools can apply for, which have autonomous funding.

Financial autonomy and control

Public schools’ system of management allows them decision-making power in strategic, pedagogical, administrative, financial and organisational areas within the framework of their educational project and according to the responsibilities and means assigned to them.

Public schools do not have financial autonomy. Their financial management system involves budget management and implementation via an overall allocation of means, the possibility of self-financing and the management of revenues assigned to them.

Autonomy contracts are signed by the school and the central administration regarding the deconcentration of responsibilities.

There are also pilot-project implementation and inter-administrative contracts signed by central administration and local authorities with regard to the decentralisation of powers.

The levels of powers and responsibilities attributed at each stage of the autonomy process are the subject of prior bargaining between the school, the Ministry of Education, municipal administration via participation of municipal education boards. This can lead to an agreement (autonomy contract) between the school, the Ministry of Education and any other interested parties. In the discussions, aims are defined and conditions are settled upon that make viable the educational project presented by the school or school cluster leadership and management bodies.

The autonomy contracts process is coordinated, monitored and evaluated on a nationwide and regional scale by the Ministry of Education.

The status of private schools, whose pedagogy is overseen by the ME, is the same as that of private organisations.

The construction and maintenance of 1st cycle basic and pre-school education buildings is the responsibility of local administration.

Investment in basic education 2nd and 3rd cycle settings is primarily the responsibility of central administration (Ministry of Education state budget). These are being transferred gradually to the local authorities through implementation and inter-administrative contracts signed with each municipality.

Fees within public education

Public education is free, with no enrolment fees and no payment necessary for activities related to school attendance and issuing of certificates.

Financial support for learners' families

According to specific criteria based on the income of the families:

  • underprivileged families receive a monthly family benefit that varies according to income and number of children.
  • students and families are exempt from income tax and receive tax breaks on education and training expenses.
  • school transport, meals, textbooks and learning equipment can be subsidised for underprivileged families. This social support is extendable to upper secondary education, but only for students with special education needs.

Financial support for families of pupils with special education needs

Pupils with special education needs enjoy different types of support:

  • specific school equipment.
  • extra pedagogic aid at no additional cost to families.
  • public funding of private special education establishments.
  • school transport.
  • special education subsidy.
  • national early intervention system.
  • support products allocation system.
  • specific tax benefits for households with dependents who have special educational needs.

The Ministry of Education's budget earmarks funds for special education:

  • to support students through private special education institutions, associations, cooperatives and private social solidarity institutions.
  • to support special education / resource centres for inclusion (CRI).
  • to support special education taught by basic and upper secondary education teachers, in:
    • education and rehabilitation cooperatives for disabled children.
    • Portuguese association of parents and friends of mentally disabled children.
    • private social solidarity institutions.
    • early intervention.

The families of pupils with special education needs benefit from specific tax benefits and exemptions.

Financial support for learners

Students may benefit from state funding via school social support (ASE) regarding:

  • school equipment.
  • socio-economic support.
  • food.
  • school trips/transport.
  • insurance.
  • accommodation in upper secondary education.
  • merit based scholarships in upper secondary education.

Data from July 2020 indicate that around 350,000 students, representing more than 30% of pupils enrolled in public schools and schools with association contracts, were covered by ASE.

Private education

Exclusively private educational institutions

Private basic and upper secondary education schools can benefit from public funding through grant contracts. The grant criteria is always the student and not the school, which means that all or only some of the students are subsidised.

State funded private institutions

Contracts between the state and private schools may take the following forms:

  • standard family support contracts - related to families’ right to choose their children’s education, these contracts facilitate attendance of private and cooperative schools by students in basic and upper secondary education not covered by other type of contract. They cover pupils from 1st cycle to upper secondary education. The support given is according to families' per capita income by income scale.
  • family support development contracts - these refer to pre-school education and provide financial support to families. The support given is according to families’ per capita income by income scale.
  • association contracts - these make it possible to attend private and cooperative schools where is a lack of public schooling, under the same conditions as the teaching given in public schools, respecting the respective educational project. Classes from 2nd cycle to upper secondary education can be funded.
  • sponsorship contracts - these contracts stimulate and support education in areas not covered or insufficiently covered by the public network, the creation of courses with specific syllabi and pedagogical improvement.
  • cooperation contracts - these are signed with private and cooperative schools dedicated to pupils with special educational needs resulting from severe or complete disabilities, which are proven to require a type of provision that does not exist in regular schools.