Salem MA is an expensive city

Study by the Berlin Science Center : "In private schools, social selection is part of the program"

Private schools in Germany isolate themselves socially - because the federal states do not enforce the Basic Law. This is the result of a study by the Berlin Social Science Center. Most countries would not state a maximum limit for school fees. In Berlin, whose administrative practice the scholars describe as “particularly poor”, private schools are even allowed to charge 100 euros or more monthly school fees from recipients of social benefits. And not a single federal state is reviewing the actual admission practice of private schools, write Michael Wrase, Professor of Public Law, and Marcel Helbig, Professor of Education and Social Inequality, in their essay, which has now been published in the "Neue Zeitschrift für Verwaltungsrecht".

In Germany there are restrictions on the establishment of private schools. This includes that the schools are not allowed to promote “a segregation of the pupils according to the ownership structure of the parents”, as stated in Article 7 of the Basic Law. With this “high requirement”, the fathers and mothers of the Basic Law wanted to “strictly prohibit private substitute schools for higher earners such as class or elite schools”, write Wrase and Helbig. There shouldn't be a German Eton.

But the laws of most countries allow an unconstitutional practice that further promotes "the already problematic social segregation in schools". For a long time now, this no longer only applies to boarding schools, whose school fees can usually no longer be financed for average earners.

Hardly any federal state controls the special ban

According to the study, only Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia meet five of nine possible principles that, according to case law, would allow effective control of the “special prohibition” in the Basic Law. In Thuringia and Bremen, on the other hand, there is not a single regulation: Neither is there a maximum limit for the average school fee, nor is there a stipulated income staggering of the contributions, nor is admission practice controlled. In most countries it is hardly better.

Berlin has a statutory authorization in the School Act that would allow the Senate Administration to lay down rules, the researchers determine. But so far it has not made use of it. An implementation ordinance from 1959 continues to apply, according to which the “special prohibition” is deemed to have been fulfilled if “one tenth of the school fee is made available for full or partial school fee waiver for the less well-off”.

In practice, the federal states apparently give private schools “almost unlimited leeway,” the researchers state.

The limit would be an average school fee of 160 euros

How much school fees are allowed? In 2010, the Stuttgart Administrative Court determined the upper limit to be 150 euros per month. If you take into account the price increase, around 160 euros would be the limit today, write Wrase and Helbig. Earlier judgments were also based on ten percent of the average net disposable household income, which in Germany is around 1,600 euros. A corresponding income staggering downwards, reductions and exemptions for children of parents who earn less or have more children are mandatory. But not only school fees, but also other contributions to be paid by parents must be taken into account: such as club and sponsorship contributions, special costs for the obligatory afternoon care and special school offers. An absolute upper limit is not required.

According to the study, the practice of admission to private homes is apparently nowhere checked. Admission selection is not only to be feared because of the school fees, but because private schools would prefer to accept students with high-income parents, as they support the school with donations and other material commitment.

The "question of easier access" for not so financially strong circles is being discussed in the Association of German Private Schools, says Andreas Wegener, Chairman of the Berlin-Brandenburg State Association. However, the schools would not actively approach parents: "We don't choose the children, but the parents who are interested in our concepts come to us," says Wegener, who is also the managing director of the Foundation Private Kant Schools gGmbH . "However, this freedom of choice is not exercised by the entire population."

Doctors 'children go to private schools more often than taxi drivers' children

The fees at the Kant schools - normally between 420 and 460 euros per month - are made up of school fees, a flat-rate meal and contributions to all-day care. At the Berlin International School in Dahlem, which is also part of the school administration, the fee can be up to 940 euros.

Wrase and Helbig point out that the share of private school attendance among children, at least one parent of whom has a high school diploma, increased by 77 percent between 1997 and 2007, compared to only 1.9 percent among children with parents who have completed secondary school . 14.3 percent of the children of parents in the socially highest occupational groups (such as doctors, engineers, teachers, professors) go to private schools. Only 3.5 percent of the children of industrial workers, taxi drivers or cleaning staff. In Berlin, pupils who receive aid for learning materials have a share of over 28 percent in state schools, but only a good eight percent in private schools.

However, it can also look different in detail: The social composition of the Catholic schools in Berlin is different, according to the Archbishop's Ordinariate. In Neukölln, up to 50 percent are completely exempt from school fees - 55 to 80 euros a month - in the Westend hardly anyone.

A limited number of scholarships - that's not enough

The authors of the study criticize the fact that in the meantime a number of private schools have been established which have “made a program of segregation of students according to the ownership structure of their parents”. In Berlin, the "Berlin Cosmopolitan School" and the "Berlin Metropolitan School" are such cases, international schools with locations in Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg. The former levy staggered fees - but from 135 monthly upwards, with an additional 105 euros for the obligatory afternoon program. Even at the cheapest level - for incomes up to 30,000 euros - the school costs 245 euros. Except for limited scholarships, there are no discounts or even exemptions.

The tuition fees at the Berlin Metropolitan School look similar, on the website “World’s Luxury Guide” it is praised as a private school by “actors, media professionals and entrepreneurs”. Because of their fees and their concept, both schools “should not have been approved in advance,” the study says.

With a limited number of scholarships, such as those offered by other private individuals, the “special prohibition” is generally not sufficient, the Federal Constitutional Court “clearly emphasized” this, the researchers write and mention the Schloss Torgelow boarding school and the Schloss Salem school. This would only award partial scholarships and require a parent's contribution of 500 euros per month.

Even socially committed school authorities are undermining the ban

The authors of the study consider it “particularly worrying” that even school authorities who are actually considered to be socially committed are undermining the “special ban”. The Free Waldorf School in Kreuzberg, for example, charges a minimum rate of 110 euros per month for children whose parents receive unemployment benefit II - even though more than 40 percent of those under the age of 15 in Kreuzberg receive social benefits. That contradicts the general principles of the Waldorf schools and is unconstitutional.

The school doesn't want to let that sit on itself. Managing director Martina Plümacher accuses the authors of not having researched properly. There is a solidarity group organized by the parents at the school, socially disadvantaged parents could very well apply for further waivers of fees, which other parents then take over, says Plümacher. De facto, this would mean that 70 children of the total of 731 students would pay less than 70 euros, and another 177 between 70 and 100 euros. In addition, the school fees also include the after-school care center for holders of the Berlin Pass, which together relieves them of around 30 euros. "Compared to schools on the outskirts, we have significantly more children whose parents live in precarious conditions," says Plümacher. However, the school does not actively pay attention to the social composition when accepting students.

Private individuals always receive state subsidies

Can private individuals even make ends meet without high fees? Since the private schools are not allowed to choose their students according to their parents' wallet, they are entitled to state support - this was stated by the Federal Constitutional Court in its landmark ruling of 1987. The entitlement exists only to secure the “subsistence level” of the private schools.

In practice, independent schools always receive state subsidies, an average of two thirds of the student costs, the Association of German Private School Associations (VDP) recently declared. The costs for the maintenance of the building, for cleaning and for material costs are often not taken into account. The VDP calls for a state subsidy of 80 to 85 percent of the total costs per student at state schools - following the example of Hamburg, Hesse and Baden-Württemberg.

In Rhineland-Palatinate, however, private schools only receive state subsidies if they do not charge school fees - which corresponds to a ban on school fees. If private schools in North Rhine-Westphalia take school fees, this reduces the state subsidy, so that school fees are not worthwhile.

The new Berlin coalition wants to improve the financial situation of private schools that accept more students who are exempt from learning materials - the proportion of students who are now exempt from learning materials in Berlin is 35 percent on average.

Is that enough? Wrase advocates fixed quotas and that the authorities actively lead students from financially disadvantaged families to the private sector. Wegener from the Association of Private Schools is quite open to “social components”.

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