Berlin With the digital pact for schools, state politicians and municipalities blame each other: Who is responsible for the fact that since mid-2019 only one eighth of the 6.5 billion euros has been paid out by the middle of the year? State politicians complain about the inaction of the municipalities. These in turn argue that the requirements of the education ministers are too bureaucratic – and that there is a risk of high connection costs.
Helmut Dedy, General Manager of the German Association of Cities, told the Handelsblatt: “The procedures for the digital pact are too complicated, the deadlines for processing in the administrations are often very tight.” Simpler and more flexible solutions are needed. The processing of the funding programs alone ties up a lot of staff.
It is controversial who caused the burdensome bureaucracy. The FDP accused Education Minister Anja Karliczek (CDU) of “total ministerial failure”: she did not even try to reduce the bureaucracy of the procedure and thus speed up the drain. One does not hear this accusation from the federal states.
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The Association of Towns and Municipalities, on the other hand, sees the federal states as responsible: “They have built up unnecessary bureaucracy with the allocation rules,” said Alexander Handschuh, who heads the digitization department there. “Often a loop was turned around and additional requirements were made that the federal government did not even demand.”
Bavaria is one of the worst performers
A clear indication that the biggest problem lies with the federal states is “that the outflow of digital pact funds in the city-states, where there is no separation between state and local authority, is much faster,” said Handschuh. In fact, Hamburg, Bremen and Berlin are at the top here – all others follow at a considerable distance.
Although Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU) demanded significantly more speed at the beginning of the year, the Free State is one of the worst performers. Only 0.8 percent of the funds had flowed out there by mid-2021. The Bavarian Association of Cities also refers to the bureaucracy: “From the beginning we drew attention to the much too high administrative burden without taking it into account,” said its managing director Bernd Buckenhofer to the Handelsblatt.
In July, Minister of Education Michael Piazolo (Free Voters) again urged the deadline to be extended and generalized. Although he showed understanding, he referred to the narrow “corridor of the administrative agreement with the federal government”. This cannot be changed during the funding period.
In addition, when the digital park started in mid-2019, the federal government still requested media concepts from the schools before the funds could be applied for. This circumstance has also made it difficult for the funds to flow out, according to the glove. In the corona pandemic, the requirement was then relaxed: the concepts are now to be delivered.
Too many facilities – too few IT staff
A central problem for the municipalities is the lack of IT personnel: “The market for IT specialists has been swept empty,” said Dedy. In addition, the municipalities could hardly compete with the private sector. And: You cannot advertise that there are secure jobs. Because, according to the general manager of the German Association of Cities, the municipalities do not know how to pay for the additional IT staff after 2024. That is when the digital pact ends.
However, the shortage of IT specialists also affects the schools themselves. So far, teachers have been responsible for IT alongside the lessons. According to Dedy, however, the facilities need specialist staff for the extensive tasks that range from assigning passwords to technical support.
According to Dedy, a small town with 25,000 inhabitants has an average of up to twelve primary schools and around four to six secondary schools. The need for IT administrators is correspondingly high, even in small communities. But: “We simply don’t have the staff,” says the managing director of the German Association of Cities.
But the market situation for digital equipment is also difficult to calculate: Required and approved technical devices such as routers, computers or peripheral products are often not immediately available in large numbers from now on. Also because of the high demand nationwide, there are delivery bottlenecks, according to the city council.
Local practitioners are annoyed
Local practitioners are becoming increasingly frustrated. Gert Fischer, Head of Schools in Mönchengladbach, praises the help provided by the digital pact, but is annoyed about the processes: “The federal and state governments treat us like the last bit of dirt. The federal government issues the checks, the states push responsibility downwards and then it is said: The stupid municipalities do not call up the money. “
The federal and state governments argue that with the digital pact, the municipalities at least have the option of “starting measures early” – that is, they can start right away and settle accounts later. According to Fischer, this is only half the story. “If we want to avoid being left with money in the end, we have to discuss a lot with the country in advance, for example whether and to what extent we can buy presentation technology.” That often takes forever.
And: “If a clerk changes there, we may start from scratch.” So at the beginning you commission “only the absolutely indisputable”. In any case, only large or wealthy municipalities could afford pre-financing, according to the municipal associations.
Mönchengladbach will receive 15 million euros from the digital pact by 2024. But Fischer is already calculating follow-up costs of two and a half million that the city will need for maintenance and replacement after the various funding programs have expired.
The head of department estimates the future additional costs for data transmission to the schools at a six-figure amount per year. “And there is by no means free WiFi included,” he clarifies. “With 38,500 students who surf the net at will during their school days, that would be legally questionable and unaffordable.”
Countries fear lawsuits
The federal states have been calling for a Digital Pact 2.0 from the federal government for a long time – but the next government will probably not talk about this until mid-2022 at the earliest. Municipalities must therefore continue to expect that they will be left with follow-up costs – and are now accordingly cautious.
In the background lurks the fundamental problem that municipalities are not even obliged to shoulder the digitization of schools. The connectivity – that is, the principle anchored in the state constitutions, “whoever orders, pays” – requires that the states have to bear the costs if they assign additional tasks to cities and municipalities. In the dispute over the expansion of the daycare center, the state constitutional court of North Rhine-Westphalia condemned the state in a test case in 2010 to assume additional costs of the municipalities in the billions.
Now there is fear in the federal states that municipalities could also sue them in the digital pact. For this reason, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, for example, has concluded an agreement with the municipalities in which they promise to take over digitization. However, the country has also made available a further 80 million euros. Saxony is also negotiating a basic agreement with the municipalities.
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