Free nursery idea splits Alliance

A row has broken out between the members of Sweden’s centre-right opposition after the Moderate Party proposed offering free kindergarten places to three-year olds. Their political allies in the Liberal Party are strongly against.

The Moderates and party leader, Fredrik Reinfeldt, are weighing in heavily on educational issues leading up to the coming 2006 election. On Thursday Reinfeldt announced that he wants kindergarten to be free starting at the age of three. Also, it is to become integrated into the general educational system.

Currently, three hours of kindergarten per day are already a part of the general education system for four-to-five-year-olds. The moderates want to extend the range and include three-year-olds.

Reinfeldt promised to ensure that his plan would not place financial burdens on local school administrations. The number of free hours per day has not yet been suggested.

“It is largely an educational matter” said Sten Tolgfors, the party’s educational spokesperson to Svenska Dagbladet.

The Moderates have also proposed that kindergarten be more teaching-oriented and contain more definitive educational content. Additionally, the party has proposed a flexible range to start primary school from five to seven year olds. They also want grading evaluations to start younger.

The Liberals have voiced objections to the Moderates’ proposal of free kindergarten for three-year-olds, questioning whether this should be a spending priority.

“We say absolutely not. Free Kindergarten from three years old costs several billion,” said Jan Björklund, FP’s vice chairman and potential future Minister of Education should the conservative-liberal Alliance take power.

“Smaller kindergarten groups and more kindergarten teachers are what are needed instead: That’s more important than free kindergarten” said Björklund.

“What the Moderates are proposing is a sort of ‘super max tax’” Björklund added.

None-the-less, Jan Björklund is convinced that the Alliance can reach a compromise on this question. He told Dagens Nyheter that he has long supported a flexible primary school start and a stronger educational focus.