There has rarely been so much protest and action before a budget consultation: when the last reading of the double budget is due in the education committee on Friday, all the key players in the Berlin school system will have spoken by then.

On Wednesday, after the parents and other organizations, the headteachers’ associations and the free schools also communicated their protest against the underfunding in order to get the House of Representatives attuned to their needs. However, an important actor will be missing on Friday: According to information from the Tagesspiegel, Secretary of State for Education Alexander Slotty (SPD) is leaving on vacation before the reading.

News of the top political official’s absence on Wednesday surprised members of the coalition as well as members of the large crowd affected by the budget cuts, some of whom are taking part in a 24-hour vigil outside the House of Representatives starting Thursday afternoon.

Because the budget, which is to be negotiated in the education committee, is so fraught with conflict that the parliamentary groups submitted more than 500 questions and reports in advance. The task is all the more complicated as both Senator for Education Astrid-Sabine Busse and Slotty and Secretary of State for Youth Aziz Bozkurt (all SPD) are new in office.

In addition, on Wednesday it became clear how scarce the school space is: although around 20,000 new school places have been created since 2016, although the classes are overcrowded in many places and additional classes are to be opened in already overcrowded buildings for the new school year, according to information from the Tagesspiegel – mainly at high schools – 300 school places in seventh grade.

This became apparent at a district equalization conference, reported one of the education councilors involved. It is particularly tight in four districts, including Treptow-Köpenick and Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg.

The final negotiations on the budget are not just about peanuts, but about hundreds of millions. In particular, a funding gap of up to 300 million euros for school construction is a concern for many stakeholders. The Senate Department for Finance affirms that the money has not been lost, but is available – albeit later if necessary. However, this did not lead to calming down, which is due to the fact that there is already no more space regionally. On the contrary.

Not only the city councilor for education from Mitte, Stefanie Remlinger (Greens), has already announced that she will access public institutions such as music schools in order to be able to accommodate all children and young people fleeing Ukraine. The fact that a few thousand additional students can already overwhelm the system is because it was already at capacity beforehand.

All six school management associations warned the coalition leaders on Wednesday against a delay in the school building offensive due to a lack of funds and described the spatial situation in their open letter: “The schools are already bursting at the seams. A further densification of school life is not possible.”

On the same day, the Working Group of Free Schools (AGFS) recalled its offer from 2019 to create up to 3,000 additional school places. At that time, the red-red-green coalition rejected the offer.

So now this offer has been renewed in the face of the new refugee movement from Ukraine. Under the heading “Impulses for the double budget 2022/23”, the free schools stated that they only demand a subsidy of 17,500 euros per place. In order to do this, however, it is necessary to set up a new budget heading for “procurement of school space”. For comparison: A publicly built school place costs up to 100,000 euros.

Whether Red-Green-Red will accept the help of the free schools is still unclear, and a clarification seems far away: In the past ten years, every attempt to reform the financing of the institutions that provide for more than ten percent of the student body has failed. As apparently the only Berlin institution, since 2003 they still have to make the cuts from the savings years.

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In addition, unlike state schools, they hardly get any additional money for the schooling of special needs children and those from poor families. So that they can take in more of them, the AGFS demands 6.3 million euros per year. In the previous year, the last attempt to change the financing had failed.

So far, the free schools don’t even know what the state will pay them for ongoing operations in 2022: the notifications, which should actually come at the end of March, are overdue. “Everything as always,” states AGFS spokesman Andreas Wegener.