Unlike in most European countries, private schools in Lithuania can claim public funds. Some argue the model is unfair and entrenches a divide between kids whose parents can afford tuition fees and those who can't.
The majority of Lithuanian school kids attend free public schools, however, some attend one of the 68 private schools in the country that charge tuition fees.
These private schools, however, also receive considerable public funding. Of the €700 million that the Lithuanian government spends on secondary education, €22 million goes to private institutions.
Some, like the economist Romas Lazutka, have persistently criticised the system, saying private schools that charge both the state and parents makes the social divide between students from better-off families and the rest even worse.
Students whose parents can't afford private tuition will not have access to these schools despite them being publicly funded.
“The education system gets differentiated and kids who were born with a silver spoon get all the opportunities because of the family they were born into, while others are left behind,” Lazutka tells LRT TV. “The system of public schools will continue to degrade, because the elites will not take interest in them and their kids don't use them.”
Secondary schools in Lithuania are funded from two main sources: municipal authorities pay for the maintenance of school facilities and the central government allocates money per student, the so-called ‘student baskets’.
This latter source of funding is available for public and private schools alike. Schoolmasters of private institutions say it derives from the Lithuanian constitution.
“Our constitution guarantees every child free education, that is, [they have the right to claim] their piece from the government budget,” says Irena Baranauskienė, the headmistress of the Saulė private school and president of the Association of Non-Public Education Institutions. “So this funding is not for private schools, it is funding for kids who are entitled to their full share.”
She argues that the fees private school students pay – these can range from several thousand to €17,000 per year – are there to cover additional amenities, teachers' training and smaller class sizes.
Lazutka says that this line of argument is flawed.
“Many ordinary Lithuanians and government people believe that if parents do not send their kids to a public school, but pay taxes, they have the right to take their part of the taxes and give it to a private school. If we allow them to do that, why not let people take back their taxes used for building cycling lanes and public transit so they can spend it on fuel for their cars?” Lazutka says.
The government says that the funding model contributes to more competition and better-quality education.
“We believe that public schools should definitely not compete among themselves, that the quality should be even across the network. But if the private school sector, which is very small in Lithuania compared to other countries, presents some competition [to public education], which motivates to move forward and raise quality, I don't see any evil in that,” says Aidas Aldamakauskas, a spokesman for the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport.
Over 300,000 students attend secondary schools in Lithuania; a little over 13,000 of them go to private institutions.