The new decree law was published last week and is set to open the way for certain State responsibilities, such as education, local health services, social inclusion and culture, to be decentralised.
Decree Law 30/2015, which oversees the “transfer of State competence to local authorities and inter-municipal entities”, was published in the government gazette last Thursday, 12 February, after being promulgated by the President of the Portuguese Republic Aníbal Cavaco Silva.
According to Portugal’s largest teachers union FENPROF this new law “implies the municipalisation of education.”
“Yet again the government has legislated on matters that are structural to education and to the country, without taking into account the portions of the educational community, namely teachers’ organisations, the Council of Schools, school management organisations, or even the National Association for Portuguese Municipalities.”
FENPROF said that, regarding education, the new law “indicates an unacceptable transfer of school responsibilities to local town halls and not just from the State to authorities, as the government said.”
Covered by this transfer would be the management of enrolments and the placement of students, school guidance and social action, the definition of educational and training opportunities and local curriculum components, and the acquisition of teaching equipment and materials.
Now in effect, the new law establishes the regime for the “delegation of competence to municipalities and inter-municipal authorities in the field of social functions” via “inter-administrative contracts.”
Touching upon the subject of decentralisation during a debate last week, Portugal’s Deputy Minister for Regional Development Miguel Poiares Maduro said “Portugal is one of the most centralised countries in Europe” and explained that “the weight of local administration on overall public spending is 10 points below the European average.”
Centralisation, he argued, translates as “a decrease in the quality of public services and policies” and that decentralisation equals “a greater adequacy of policies and public services to the reality of the territory and populations.”
Poiares Maduro said that the handing down of powers within education, health, social security and culture would be done via pilot projects starting with a limited number of municipal entities that have decided to sign up to the process.
FENPROF said it would be taking a double-pronged approach to fighting the issue, with one of those approaches involving teacher strikes, “especially in the municipalities contracted with the government.”
It is thought the decentralisation of educational decision-making will take place in fewer than a dozen of the country’s 278 counties, the northern municipality of Batalha being among them.