Karoline Mitterer and Dalilah Pichler, KDZ Centre for Public Administration Research Austria
A complex environment and increasing demands by the population increase the need for a well-coordinated service provision between all levels of government. In Austria the area of compulsory schooling is traditionally jointly provided by the national, Länder and local level. This area in particular shows complex operational and financial interdependencies. In the context of governance, there is a general lack of planning and coordination mechanisms as well as cross-level educational development goals and strategies.
Improved coordination and governance are essential for providing high-quality and inclusive educational services. Not only is vertical coordination necessary, but also a horizontal one between municipalities, as there are significant differences in the challenges in compulsory schooling that rural local governments (RLGs) and urban local governments (ULGs) face. Rural areas with population loss are struggling to maintain basic educational services while urban spaces must cope with additional strains to the educational system due to a high share of children from a migrant background and/or from families facing difficult social circumstances. The current resource allocation within the school locations is not modified to the different needs. Thus, improving governance by taking into consideration the urban-rural interplay is of great importance.
There is a diversity of tasks in the area of compulsory schooling that need to be fulfilled by all levels of government. The competencies listed here only refer to general compulsory schooling. In Austria, at the age of 10, there is also the possibility to change to an academic secondary school (Allgemein bildende höhere Schule), which is the sole competence of the national government. About two thirds of the school children aged 10 and over attend the general compulsory schools that are of shared competencies.
The following list gives an overview of actors and their roles:
- legislative power generally lies with the national government. However, the Länder can enact their own laws on implementation, which results in differences in the organizational structures of schools between the Länder;
- the newly established Education Directorates (Bildungsdirektionen) present a joint agency of the national and Länder governments. They are responsible for governing, administrating and supervising schools;
- the teaching and administrative staff as well as support staff are provided and managed by the Länder, but largely paid by the national government via financial transfers to the Länder;
- staff for facility management and maintenance for schools is provided and managed by municipalities. The local level is also responsible for transport services and school physicians;
- supervised leisure activities within school hours, extracurricular activities and holiday care are to be provided and organized by the local level;
Overall, there are complex interdependencies between all actors in task fulfillment and financing, which hampers the effective governance of the educational sector. Reducing the complexity through government reforms have not led to significant improvements. The 2017 Education Reform Act has taken steps towards more clarity in this interdependent structure, such as concentrating tasks and responsibilities in newly created Education Directorates as well as the establishment of Education Regions. Both instruments have the potential to improve multi-level governance.
With the 2017 Education Reform Act the Education Directorates were created as joint authorities for the overall schooling sector, where administrative tasks of the national government (responsible for federal schools) and the Länder (responsible for general compulsory schooling) were merged. Up until the reform, two separate administrative entities co-existed. The tasks of these new joint authorities are to execute school legislation (such as supervision and quality control), combined human resource management for teachers employed by both levels of government, to strategically plan school locations and organization, as well as managing school psychology services. Another important aspect is the coordination with municipalities, who are responsible for maintenance of the school infrastructure and facilities.
Since the Education Directorates are still in the implementation process, it is not yet possible to assess if new types of cooperation have actually occurred.
The Education Regions are a regional coordination platform and managing unit for cooperation between actors of the educational system. Austria currently has 31 Education Regions with the key element being the respective regional educational development plan. The overall goal is to supply educational and day-care services as well as to expand all-day school forms, all of which are adequate, coordinated and based on the regional needs. Some examples are:
- development of educational quality across different school locations;
- cooperation between all schools or school clusters in a region in order to identify and use structural, organizational and pedagogical synergies;
- evidence-based analysis and design for smoother transitions to higher school levels or different types of schools;
- cooperation between schools and the regional environment (educational and counseling institutions, private sector, labor market services, health and social services, associations, child and youth welfare as well as civil society initiatives) – so far, this was primarily organized by municipal governments and / or social welfare organizations;
- training support and professionalization of schools and teachers.
As the implementation of these coordination strategies are still in an early stage, an assessment of the effects cannot yet be made.
Different Conditions in Urban and Rural Areas
The requirements in urban and rural areas are different and also affect the range of services provided. The average school size (number of classes per school) increases with the size and centrality of the municipality. This means there are smaller schools in RLGs and larger schools in ULGs. While there are four classes in an average elementary school in rural areas, there are twice as many in urban areas. The class size (students per class) is smaller in rural areas than in urban areas. Taking primary schools as an example, this means that the average class size in urban areas is larger by two students than in rural areas. This is also due to the fact there are many micro schools in RLGs with even smaller classes, which lower the average. In contrast, ULGs have a higher capacity utilization.
Immigration mainly takes place in urban regions. Especially in cities with more than 20,000 inhabitants, there is a high proportion of pupils with non-German colloquial language. Here the proportion is 4 to 5 times higher than in the municipalities up to 5,000 inhabitants. This indicator indirectly shows a greatly increased risk of early school leaving for young people in cities if there is no appropriate language support or integrative and accompanying measures.
A key success factor for the educational system is an improved multi-level governance approach. Currently there are no appropriate mechanisms for all levels of government to better coordinate their contributions and responsibilities. An interesting proposition of the new national government is planned for elementary education (children until age 6). An advisory committee is to be installed in order to determine a common framework, for example in quality standards, trainings and transition to higher school levels. Next to representatives of all levels of government, NGOs and education experts are to be included in such a committee. For compulsory schooling on the other hand, there is no such solution planned yet. Rather, the last educational reform in 2017 showed that the involvement of the local level was insufficient. It is still open to what extent the above-mentioned Educational Regions will lead to an improvement in multi-level governance.
A further success factor would be cross-level management by objectives. This means that the national government, Länder and municipalities collectively agree on outcome-orientated goals and define the appropriate measures in line with the competences of each governmental level. Currently this coordination mechanism is not in place and would be necessary to avoid competing measures and financial dependencies.
There is an ongoing discussion in the framework of fiscal equalization for many years regarding the funding for public responsibilities such as the area of compulsory schooling. This is to ensure that municipalities in rural and urban areas facing different challenges (school and class sizes, number of pupils with migration background) are guaranteed the appropriate means to provide high-quality educational services. In the last fiscal equalization negotiations in 2017, a pilot project for the compulsory school sector was agreed upon. Ultimately, however, this failed due to the unsuccessful reconciliation of interests between the actors, especially between rural and urban areas.
—— ‘Aus Verantwortung für Österreich. Regierungsprogramm 2020–2024’ (Bundeskanzleramt Österreich 2020) <https://www.wienerzeitung.at/_em_daten/_wzo/2020/01/02/200102-1510_regierungsprogramm_2020_gesamt.pdf>
Bifie, ‘Nationaler Bildungsbericht 2018. Band 1 Das Schulsystem im Spiegel von Daten und Indikatoren‘ (Bifie and BMBWF 2018)
Blöchliger H and Kantorowicz J, ‘Fiscal Constitutions: An Empirical Assessment’ (2015) 1248 OECD Economics Department Working Papers <https://doi.org/10.1787/5jrxjctrxp8r-en>
Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research BMBWF, ‘Steuerung des Schulsystems in Österreich’ (white book, BMBWF 2019)
Mitterer K, ‘Aufgabenorientierter Finanzausgleich aus der Governance-Perspektive‘ in Helfried Bauer, Peter Biwald and Karoline Mitterer (eds), Governance-Perspektiven in Österreichs Föderalismus. Herausforderungen und Optionen (NWV 2019)
Mitterer K, Hochholdinger N and Seisenbacher M, ‘Leistungs- und wirkungsbezogene Pflichtschulfinanzierung. Finanzierung der Aufgaben im Pflichtschulbereich: Status Quo und Modellvorschläge‘ (KDZ 2019) —— and Seisenbacher M, ‘Fact Sheets – Pflichtschule und Tagesbetreuung‘ (KDZ 2019)
 Karoline Mitterer, Nikola Hochholdinger and Marion Seisenbacher, ‘Leistungs- und wirkungsbezogene Pflichtschulfinanzierung‘ (KDZ 2019).
 Karoline Mitterer and Marion Seisenbacher, ‘Fact Sheets – Pflichtschule und Tagesbetreuung‘ (KDZ 2019); Mitterer, Hochholdinger and Seisenbacher, ‘Leistungs- und wirkungsbezogene Pflichtschulfinanzierung‘.
 Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research BMBWF, ‘Steuerung des Schulsystems in Österreich’ (white book, BMBWF 2019).
 Mitterer, Hochholdinger and Seisenbacher, ‘Leistungs- und wirkungsbezogene Pflichtschulfinanzierung‘, above.
 Bifie, ‘Nationaler Bildungsbericht 2018‘ (Bifie and BMBWF 2018).
 ‘Aus Verantwortung für Österreich. Regierungsprogramm 2020–2024’ (Bundeskanzleramt Österreich 2020).
 Mitterer, Hochholdinger and Seisenbacher, ‘Leistungs- und wirkungsbezogene Pflichtschulfinanzierung‘, above.
 Karoline Mitterer, ‘Aufgabenorientierter Finanzausgleich aus der Governance-Perspektive‘ in Helfried Bauer, Peter Biwald and Karoline Mitterer (eds), Governance-Perspektiven in Österreichs Föderalismus. Herausforderungen und Optionen (NWV 2019) 110.