By Elton Stafa
PLGP’s recently finalized policy paper: “Early Childhood Education at the Intersection of Albanian Municipal Finance and Governance,” aims to improve Albanian policymakers’ understanding of the challenges and opportunities for improving preschool education. Early childhood education is the most expensive, and arguably the most important function which was decentralized in 2016.
This policy paper analyzes how the decentralization of this function to local governments has made questions concerning access to and quality of early childhood education inseparable from questions of municipal finance and governance. From this perspective, the paper examines the gaps between Albania’s strategies/laws and actual practices regarding preschool finance and management.
Most importantly, the paper outlines a roadmap with concrete recommendations to improve the finance and governance of preschool education over the medium term.
These recommendations build upon the successful cooperation between PLGP and the Albanian Ministry of Finance of Albania in taking the first steps to improve the financing of preschool education in Albania. These steps included both the earmarking of additional funds for municipalities experiencing extremely high pupil-to-teacher ratios in preschools and the initial framework for a per-pupil allocation of funding across local governments (as required by law and in alignment with international best practices).
In concrete terms, in 2019, the Government of Albania allocated 320 million ALL ($3 million) to hire 440 additional preschool teachers (10% increase) for those municipalities that had an urgent need. As a result of this reform, the average class size nationwide fell from 18 to 16 pupils per teacher and from 26 to 18 pupils per teacher in those urban areas experiencing acute overcrowding.
Fundamentally, PLGP contends that efforts to improve Albanian preschool education must require the GoA to maintain their promise to increase spending on early childhood education and that the best approach is strengthening the rights and resources of municipalities.
PLGP maintains that the national government should strongly consider (perhaps with external support) the creation of a universally available preschool meal program, at no cost to citizens. This program would encourage enrollment and thereby enhance women’s access and ability to participate in the labor market, which consequentially helps alleviate poverty and promote social inclusion in communities across Albania.