Liberals: Link free school funding to quality

Liberal Party leader Jan Björklund announced on Swedish public radio's P1 channel on Thursday morning that the dividends to the owners of privately run free schools should be stopped if the schools experience a drop in quality.

Liberals: Link free school funding to quality
Teacher writing on whiteboard

“I could be very provoked if the quality of an independent school falls and it takes funding for students who have difficulties and at the same time distributes dividends to owners,” he said.

According to Björklund, the parties in the government have agreed to look into the issue. Under the new rules, the Schools Inspectorate (Skolinspektionen) would be legally able to impose such sanctions.

“The school would have the opportunity to fix it and in the meantime, a dividend ban would be introduced,” he said.

Björklund said he believes that such a ban would be effective.

“It is a matter of great concern for a free school, like a public school, to receive a tough reprimand from the Schools Inspectorate,” he said. “Students and parents will find out and fewer will want to go there.”

He added that whistleblower protection for staff at private alternatives that run on tax money could be introduced, similar to those offered at public enterprises.

Earlier, the government had said no on the grounds that private companies are exposed to competition and need protection of privacy.

The Social Democrats’ Ylva Johansson slammed Björklund’s new proposals for more stringent rules for free schools as “electioneering.”

“It has been under his watch that schools have turned into a market with short-term profit interests,” she said. “He is not credible.”

Meanwhile, the Swedish Teachers’ Union (Lärarförbundet) welcomes whistleblower protection for employees at free schools. The union is also positive regarding a halt to dividend payouts to free schools with a decline in quality.

“We taxpayers should know that the money that we give to the school is used to maintain a high quality,” said union chairwoman Eva-Lis Sirén in a press release.

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Swedish PM pledges to ban profit making at free schools

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has pledged to stop companies withdrawing profits from schools, in what is likely to be one of the Social Democrats' main campaigning issues in the coming election campaign.

Swedish PM pledges to ban profit making at free schools

The proposal, one of three measures announced to “take back democratic control over the school system”, was launched on the first day of the Almedalen political festival on the island of Gotland.

On Sunday evening, Andersson is set to give the first big speech of the festival, with Ulf Kristersson, leader of the centre-right Moderate party, and Left Party leader Nooshi Dadgostar scheduled to make their speeches on Monday, and Sweden’s other party leaders taking slots on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  

“Schools in Sweden should focus on knowledge, not on the pursuit of profit,” Andersson said, as she made the pledge, stressing that her party aimed not only to ban withdrawing profits, but also “to make sure that all the possible loopholes are closed”. 

Free schools, she complained, siphon off billions of kronor in tax money every year at the same time as free schools increase divisions in society. 

Banning profits from schools is an obvious campaigning issue for the Social Democrats. The latest poll by Gothenburg University’s SOM Institute found that fully 67 percent of voters support such a ban.

The only issue is that the Centre Party, whose support the Social Democrats will need to form a government, is likely to block a future Social Democrat government from implementing it, something Andersson was willing to acknowledge.

“What I know is that there’s a very strong support for this among the Swedish people, but not in the Swedish parliament,” she said. 

The Social Democrats have campaigned on the issue in past elections, pledging to stoppa vinstjakten, or “stop the pursuit of profit in schools”, or, in the run-up to the 2018 election, only to see the policy blocked in the January Agreement the party did to win the support of the Centre Party and the Liberal party.  

On Sunday, Andersson would not give any details on whether companies listed on Swedish or international stockmarkets would be prevented from operating schools, saying she was leaving such details to an inquiry into reforming Sweden’s free school system the government launched on June 30th.  

In the press conference, Andersson criticised the inflated grades given out by free schools, which are dismissed by critics as glädjebetyg, literally “happy grades”.

“We end up having pupils who graduate with good marks who then realise that their school has let them down,” she said. 

At the press conference, Andersson also reiterated the Social Democrats call to ban the establishment of new religious free schools, and announced plans for a national schools choice system, stripping free schools of the ability to run their own queue systems.