Minister takes aim at free school ‘profits’

Minister takes aim at free school 'profits'
Sweden's education minister Jan Björklund has sharpened his tone against privately-run, publicly-funded "free schools", conceding that there are several indications that profit takes precedence over quality.

“Loopholes in the legislation has meant that free schools can elect not to have a library, student counseling, and school nurses. As they get just as much money as the municipal schools, the owners have been able to withdraw the financial surplus,” he told the Dagens Industri daily.

Björklund acknowledged a degree of naivety from the political centre-right in regards to their view of independent schools.

The minister has previously announced a parliamentary inquiry to look into how free schools which fail to meet accepted standards can be prevented from taking out profits.

“It is important that the parliamentary inquiry into profits and quality of private schools gets started as soon as possible,” the Swedish teachers’ union – the largest union in the private sector with 14,000 members – said in a press release in response to Björklund’s statement.

Despite Björklund’s assertion that loopholes in the law have been used to generate profit at the expense of quality, it appears unlikely that the review will result in a ban on investment funds owning schools.

The three largest free school enterprises – Academedia, John Bauer and Pysslingen – are all owned by private equity firms.

“You can not say that the Wallenberg group, which is the ultimate owner of Academedia, would not be able to run private schools,” Björklund told DI.

Academedia CEO Marcus Strömberg does not think the education minister’s statements contain anything new.

“He (Björklund) has been very clear that they want to focus on quality and have in place a clear legislation that tightens quality standards, and that it should be equal for all actors. And that is something I think is very positive,” he said.

With regards to Björklund’s views on private equity firms as owners of free schools, Strömberg said:

“I have no idea. What is important when you run a business in the schools sector, is that you have sound, long-term, serious owners. Others will have to judge who they be.”

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