Opportunities and Limits of Municipal Education Policy
The German education landscape consists of a variety of formal and non-formal education opportunities. However, this is precisely where the problem often lies, as it is not easy to keep track of who is responsible for what and when. The provision of day-care centres, including after-school care, is the responsibility of the municipalities, whereas the ownership of schools lies with the municipalities or the federal state. While the latter is responsible for school curriculum and teaching staff (internal school matters) in accordance with their constitutionally guaranteed sovereignty over education and the arts (Art. 7 and 70 Basic Law), the municipalities are in charge of the construction and equipment of schools (external school matters). Extracurricular child and youth work (e.g., recreational facilities, counselling), which is carried out by a large number of independent providers, usually is the area of authority of the municipal youth office, which in turn is often subordinate to the social welfare office - and thus not necessarily located in the same department as schools and daycare centres.
The challenges that cities and municipalities face in education policy as a result of differing responsibilities were outlined by Markus Schön in his presentation "Kommunale Bildungslandschaften als kommunale Sozialpolitik" (Municipal education landscapes as municipal social policy) at the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy. The jurist and city director for education, youth, labour, sports, migration and integration in Krefeld cited in particular the areas of inclusion and digitalisation, but also the provision of the building infrastructure, where municipalities were reaching their limits. Particularly in the case of digitalisation, a change in the separation between internal and external school matters would be urgently needed, Schön said.
For municipal education policy to be successful and, for example, to prevent disruptions in educational biographies, educational institutions must cooperate closely with each other on the one hand, and with other municipal social policy institutions on the other. The city of Krefeld, which is dealing with a high degree of social and ethnic segregation, is trying to compensate for social background-related disadvantages and to create more educational equity through a holistic concept. It combines family support measures with early childhood, school and extracurricular education. This includes, among other things, the development of a common understanding of education and upbringing for daycare centres and elementary schools as well as the systematization and support of transition periods, e.g. from elementary school to secondary school.
Close cooperation between schools and youth welfare, school social workers and school psychologists is also needed with regard to "absenteeism," which is an increasing problem, Schön noted. However, the rigid responsibilities of the federal, state and local governments often stand in the way of binding cooperation between schools and social service providers. The city director also criticised the harm done by current discussions on budgetary discipline at the national level in that they were being conducted exclusively in the area of family and education policy, although it was precisely here that the need for investment was greatest after the Corona pandemic. The results of the most recent IGLU study on reading literacy were highly disturbing, he said, with a quarter of fourth graders failing to meet the minimum standards.
In view of these developments, it is high time to remember an African proverb instead of losing sight of the needs of children and young people in this type of turf war: "It takes a village to raise a child."