They haven’t used up the money yet, when they want something new. The ministers of education are demanding an additional 500 million euros from the federal government to increase the Corona catch-up program for schoolchildren. And because they will not be able to spend the billion already paid within a year and a half by the end of 2022, they want the spending period to be extended right away: by another year and a half until the end of the 2023/24 school year.
Hamburg’s SPD education senator called the fulfillment of both KMK demands “essential”, the Hessian CDU Minister of Education Alexander Lorz said that “staying power” is needed to eliminate the learning deficits after the Corona school closures.
Can you find anything wrong with the striking initiative of the Minister of Education? One must even, without denying that more money for schools is never wrong per se. But the catch-up program has so far been a prime example of what can go wrong in federal education policy.
Because the federal and state governments did not agree on clear goals and success criteria for the program in advance, each state did what it thought was right. Hardly any Minister of Education responded to the urgent recommendation of leading educational researchers to “concentrate the little money that is available on those children and young people who really need it”. This is how Olaf Köller, the chairman of the Standing Scientific Commission (SWK) of the KMK, put it in 2021.
So that in some cases more money went to high school students than to comprehensive students. And instead of concentrating on the most urgent basic skills such as reading, writing or arithmetic, swimming courses were sometimes also financed or the promotion of Saterland Frisian. In addition, states with a high proportion of educationally disadvantaged young people, such as Bremen, received the same amount per capita as Bavaria or Saxony in accordance with the federal-state agreement.
In view of all this, the fact that the money only came to the schools or to the students bureaucratically and hesitantly, as with the digital pact, was perhaps not so bad. If culture ministers now protest, boldly convinced that things are going better in their country and that things are more socially targeted: this too will often be difficult to objectively verify, because there is no obligation to evaluate catch-up program projects and this has therefore not been done in many cases. At least, the educational researchers praise, some federal states have voluntarily launched accompanying research – as the SWK had advised everyone from the outset.
With all that in mind, would it really be a good idea to throw half a billion after that? No, the BMBF should definitely keep its increasingly scarce money together and put it into the start opportunities program promised in the traffic light coalition agreement for thousands of schools all over Germany, which are attended by a particularly large number of students from socially disadvantaged families.
That, so many scientists and educational practitioners hope, could actually make a difference if it were set up correctly: funding where the need is greatest. And not for one or two years, but for the long term. With massive investments in school construction and equipment, with extra budgets, new learning support offers and additional, unlimitedly funded social workers.
The “Starting Chances” program can and must be everything that the catch-up program is not: systematic, needs-based, evaluated. With a federal government that, in return for its money, agrees on ambitious standards with the federal states. But the BMBF should slowly come around the corner with its plans in this regard. Burning even more of the scarce money in the catch-up program to bridge the gap would definitely not be a good idea.
Germany has a fundamental “performance and justice problem,” said education researcher Petra Stanat, who on Friday had to report the drastically poorer performance of fourth graders nationwide in the IQB education trend 2021. It is all too easy to use the pandemic as the explanation. The same applies to the old country reflexes of simply demanding more money. The reversal of the federal coexistence in education policy must also be a fundamental one.