“Law 248/2015 established the legal framework for inclusive preschool education in Romania, but the program’s success depends on local deployment. It is essential that communities actively recruit and genuinely welcome all children to preschool and then strictly enforce the daily attendance requirement.”
OvidiuRo cofounder Maria Gheorghiu
Law Nr. 248/2015, known as the “Fiecare Copil în Grădiniță” or “Preschool Law”, went into effect in February 2016 to encourage and support the regular attendance of 3- to 6-year-old children in grădiniță (preschool & kindergarten). It was based on the highly successful pilot program initiated by OvidiuRo in 2010 in partnership with the Romanian Ministry of Education and first funded by a $30,000 grant from The Alex Fund.
The “Preschool Law” adopted the pilot program’s central mechanism: giving poor families the opportunity to receive $11 per month in food coupons if they brought their 3-to 6-year-old children to grădiniță every day. The measure passed in October of 2015, with the full support of all the major political parties, reflecting the government’s recognition that early education is crucial for Romania’s most disadvantaged children if they are to have a chance to succeed in school – and thus to work their way out of multi-generational poverty.
On the 3rd of April 2020, the Romanian Parliament passed four amendments to Law 248/2015 in order to further strengthen its implementation and extend its reach to all impoverished children.
On the 16 of April, 2020 the law was promulgated by President Iohannis.
Thus, as of January 2021:
- All children who live in families that benefit from SFA (social welfare payments) and are enrolled in preschool will automatically qualify for the program;
- The food coupon incentive (conditional on the child’s daily attendance in preschool) will be doubled to 100 lei ($22 USD) per month;
- Mayors and school directors will be required to organize information and enrollment campaigns twice a year.
These important amendments to the Preschool Law resulted from the efforts of the Romanian NGO Reality Check working closely with the Ministry of Labor. The law was amended to make it easier and more attractive for impoverished families to send their children to preschool on a daily basis, the purpose being to maximize the number of disadvantaged children benefiting from early education. MP Florin Manole (PNL) introduced the legislation last summer and shepherded the law through its passage. MPs Tudor Pop (USR) and Camelia Gavrila (PSD) were also highly instrumental in its passage.
Why the law was needed
“We must give the children of parents who themselves missed out on education, the tools to stick with school because staying in school is crucial to achieving basic job skills. Only participation in the mainstream job market will give these children a fighting chance to work their way out of poverty.”
OvidiuRo cofounder Leslie Hawke
In 2015 it was estimated that only one in three children living below the poverty line were benefiting from any formal early education, whereas over 80% of the total population of children attended at least one year of preschool. With a third of Romania’s children living in severe deprivation, a lot of children never even saw a book until they entered primary school at six, seven or sometimes, eight years old. This resulted in the biggest literacy-score-gap in the EU between the poorest children and those in the top quartile, and one of the lowest adult literacy rates in Europe.
The Fiecare Copil în Grădiniță Law came about as an important element of Romania’s efforts to meet European Commission objectives of reducing school abandonment, poverty and inequity. It was a major step forward for Romanian education and social equity at the grassroots level. But it was only the first step.
The crucial role of NGOs
“The Preschool Law was a wonderful breakthrough for Romania’s most marginalized children, but the gulf between legal entitlement and effectively implementing a progressive program is immense.”
Alina Seghedi, cofounder Reality Check
While the Romanian government allocated the funds for food coupon incentives to poor parents, it did not appropriate financial or human resources for launching and enforcing the program or providing other basic program elements – like training local teams in kindergarten recruitment techniques, parent education, or even the basic data entry procedures demanded by the regulations. It also did not cover related essential costs like appropriate clothes, school supplies, and program monitoring.
Years of investment by OvidiuRo, the Romanian corporate sector, and concerned individuals resulted in a major policy shift when the “FCG Law” was passed, BUT we knew that that investment would only truly pay off if early education were to become an integral part of the fabric of local community life throughout Romania. And we also knew that it would not do so without concerted, sustained effort!
Consequently, immediately after the secondary legislation was finalized, OvidiuRo took on the proactive role of FCG implementation facilitator, assisting communities in correctly administering FCG and optimizing its impact. OvidiuRo also served as the initiative’s de facto rapporteur, reporting back to the key government ministries and county officials about problems that arose, proposing solutions, and then communicating the outcomes back to the local implementation teams.With mayors and school directors responsible for day-to-day operations, OvidiuRo’s role was to inspire, guide, trouble-shoot, and monitor the process so the program would be well-received and communities would maximize its potential to help marginalized children enter primary school with the skills they need to succeed.
As soon as the secondary legislation that created the structure for implementing the law was signed in January 2016, OvidiuRo held meetings with authorities in every one of Romania’s 41 counties, informing local teams on the proper procedures for implementing the program, and taking note of concerns that were broached at the town hall style meetings. Separate meetings were held with the County Council, School Inspectorate, and Prefects. In total, 8000 public employees attended the meetings.
Since 2016, the OvR team has visited 355 marginalized villages in 38 counties, updating over 1400 (400 in summer + 1000 during Read Aloud caravans) local team representatives on FCG legislation & best practices, and reported to 300 county authorities on the progress of the FCG implementation in their counties.
Nonetheless, OvidiuRo’s monitoring of the program’s rollout across Romania over the first two years indicated a wide variance in levels of student participation from county to county and village to village. Statistics obtained from the Ministry of Education also indicated that many families in the target population were not taking advantage of the program.
In 2017, the Reality Check NGO obtained a grant from the Civic Innovation Fund to evaluate the national implementation of Law 248/2015 in order to identify the necessary conditions for successful program implementation and prepare a strategy for addressing the issues.
Reality Check’s 2018 investigation showed that for the program to “work” required (1) a tolerant local community and (2) at least one public institution, ideally the city hall, but sometimes the school, to take on the role of program driver. It also revealed that the cumbersomeness of the enrollment process hindered many parents from applying.
A grant from The Alex Fund in 2019 enabled the Reality Check team to allocate the time to formulate a set of specific changes to the legislation that would make it more attractive to parents and require it to be better administered by the local authorities. Working with Mihaela Grecu, the director of the Social Benefits division of the Ministry of Labor, Reality Check drafted a set of changes to the law and convinced MP Florin Manole to propose the legislation to Parliament. The proposed measure passed, in its entirety, in April 2020.