Germany’s educational misery: the chancellor must intervene

Germany’s educational misery: the chancellor must intervene

Wealthy countries block equitable distribution of federal billions for education. A social-democratic chancellor shouldn’t be indifferent.

A student sits in the auditorium during the Abitur exam in biology

The traffic light wants to strengthen 4,000 hotspot schools with the starting opportunity program Photo: Sebastian Kahnert/dpa

Naturally, many concerns are brought to the attention of the German Chancellor, including this week. Olaf Scholz should take refugee policy into his own hands, Olaf Scholz should not meet Benjamin Netanyahu. An alliance of foundations, associations and trade unions made a remarkable demand this week: the chancellor must make education a top priority – and one right convened an education summit. With Prime Minister and final declaration. So that the tepid event that just happened in Berlin doesn’t happen again.

As a reminder: The Federal Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP) had asked states and municipalities, science and the school community to the crisis meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday. She wanted to initiate a “turnaround in education policy” and redefine the competences between the federal and state governments. Both have gone terribly wrong. With the exception of two, the countries stayed away from the summit and no resolutions were passed. Unless you accept the announcement of a task force that will eventually make suggestions on urgent school problems. It should also be clear to Stark-Watzinger that working groups do not reduce school dropout rates or help socially disadvantaged children. The summit revealed that not only the education system is in crisis, but also education policy.

It is quite possible that an invitation from the Chancellery (and an early involvement of the federal states) would have generated a different response – the result would probably have changed little. Some countries too often behave too stubbornly for that. Angela Merkel had to experience this when she called a “real” education summit in 2008 – and was presented on the open stage by the state leaders, including those from her own party. As is well known, Merkel was unable to keep her promise to raise the education budget to ten percent of GDP by 2015.

Strengthen hotspot schools

Of course, Olaf Scholz knows all this. He’s too smart to get involved in federal infighting. Nevertheless, an intervention could be worthwhile for the chancellor. Because the stubbornness of the states – currently Saxony and Bavaria – is likely to torpedo the central promise of education by his government.

The stubbornness of Bavaria and Saxony is capable of torpedoing the government’s central promise of education.

With the Starter Opportunity Program the traffic light would like to strengthen 4,000 schools in troubled areas, starting with the 2024/25 school year. However, Markus Söder and Michael Kretschmer absolutely do not want to see that the planned federal billions will be distributed according to social criteria. Education researchers consider this to be urgently needed. Stark-Watzinger has also ruled out an allocation of funds according to the watering can – i.e. according to the Königsteiner key, which is measured according to the number of inhabitants and economic power. Bavaria and Saxony, however, insist on their usual piece of the pie, although other countries need the money more urgently.

The compromise that the education ministers agreed on at their KMK meeting on Thursday stipulates that only five percent of the funds should go directly to the neediest schools. For this purpose, a “solidarity fund” is to be set up, from which the countries with the most social hotspots, i.e. Bremen, Berlin, Hamburg and North Rhine-Westphalia, are to benefit. At least a little bit. Most of the cake is crumbled and spread evenly across the country.

Stark-Watzinger must not accept this proposal – and Scholz must support them in it. The KMK proposal thwarts the actual program goal too much. In addition, the credibility of the traffic light would be gone, which wanted to learn from the mistakes of past federal and state programs – see “Catching up after Corona” – and distribute the funds in a more targeted manner. To where they are needed. And not where this year’s election campaign is taking place. All of this should motivate Scholz to speak a word of power in education policy. Within his jurisdiction, of course.

How about this: The chancellor makes it clear to the finance minister that promises of education will not be reduced (a little tip: investing in social justice also pays off economically!). He guarantees the federal states that all educational projects such as the Digital Pact 2.0 will now be tackled at the “Germany pace”. And he gives Stark-Watzinger a free hand to negotiate without compromise. If the states want all the billions from the federal government, they have to offer more than 5 percent. Every percent more makes the country fairer. If Germany doesn’t have a social democratic chancellor for this, then what for?

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