“In my opinion, investing in early education is the most important investment we can make.“ Vasile Ivanoff, General Secretary, Dâmbovița County Council
“OvR’s program and food coupon mechanism is a remarkably successful initiative.“ Ion Prioteasa, President, Dolj County Council
Romania made a major leap forward in addressing the extreme education gap between Roma* and the rest of Romania’s children when the Parliament passed a bill promoting every child’s right to participate in kindergarten on the 7th of October 2015. The vote in the Romanian Chamber of Deputies was 289 votes in favor, 1 against and 5 abstentions having gained full support from all the political parties in Romania. (The bill was passed by the Senate Chamber in June.) (to be highlighted or inserted as a box)
Law 248/2015 will finance a national program with €13.2 million to encourage 3- to 6-year-old children living in poverty to regularly attend grădiniță. Based on the Fiecare Copil în Grădiniță model, parents living under the poverty line will receive €11 per month in food coupons if their child attends preschool every day.
Like many of the best programs, FCG originated “bottom-up” – as a joint venture between an NGO (OvidiuRo), local authorities and neighborhood schools – to address the widespread phenomenon of early school abandonment that was rampant in many poor rural communities. The authorities knew this was a serious problem but they had neither a long-term strategy nor the resources to tackle it.
Many communities had benefited sporadically from short-term outside grants but most of these programs terminated as soon as the outside funds ran out, and therefore never lasted long enough to take root in the community or to make any measurable difference in student outcomes. Fiecare Copil în Grădiniță was different from these other programs in four basic ways:
- Significant investment from the local authorities: The local council was required to provide at least €35 per child for school clothes.
- Long-term commitment from OvidiuRo: It was clear that OvR was there to help develop and sustain the programs, not just to check their invoices.
- Medium-term management transition plan: In 2014, OvR introduced a process to wean well-functioning programs from management dependence on OvR, making 13 communities “autonomous” (i.e., local coordinators made all program decisions and monitoring independent of FCG, while still providing quarterly reports to OvR). At the same time, eight communities became semi-autonomous. (OvR continues to monitor and audit attendance records but local coordinators make local day-to-day decisions.)
- Positive word of mouth: The success of the pilot programs piqued the interest of other communities and county authorities, enabling the program to grow organically in the first few years.
Cluj County Council was the first public authority to allocate funds to scale-up FCG when in 2014 Cluj covered food coupon costs in four new communities. In 2015 the number of Cluj communities grew to 10. The County Child Protection Services runs the program in partnership with the County School Inspectorate.
*Program participation is based solely on family income, not ethnicity. Nonetheless, the majority of families that qualify due to extreme poverty are Roma, although most do not identify as Roma on government census forms.