Administrative and Labour Court: nationalization of council schools was unconstitutional

January 23, 2018

Teacher shortage affects at least 180 settlements across Hungary
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The Budapest-Capital Administrative and Labour Court has ruled that the nationalization of council schools was unconstitutional, reports.

The Fidesz-Christian Democratic People’s Party government nationalized and centralized public education in two phases. In early 2013, the government took away the right of municipal councils to maintain schools (including the right to employ teachers, to pay them, and the overall professional management of schools), but councils of bigger towns and the Budapest district councils could remain operators of the school properties. In 2017, with new legislation, the government forced the remaining few councils that still had the right to manage their respective school properties to hand them over to the state for “free asset management.”

The council of the Pest county village of Csömör decided to challenge the second nationalization. Out of necessity, the Csömör council signed the property transfer contract with the government but only under the condition that if it wins a lawsuit against the government, the council remains the operator of the local school.

The Csömör council attacked the nationalization law on three grounds:

Firstly, it argued that the government tried to portray the nationalization as a contract between two equal parties, legally forcing the city councils to voluntarily surrender their properties. The Csömör council, however, found it unconstitutional that an elected body is forced to vote against the will of an existing majority.

Secondly, the Csömör council found the government’s full requisition of schools property unconstitutional. Hungary’s constitution, the Fundamental Law, only allows total requisition of property if a public purpose cannot be achieved by any other means. The Csömör council argued that the public goal of maintaining schools is not exclusively achievable through state ownership.

Thirdly, the Csömör council argued that the government had discriminated against municipal councils since the law does not pertain to national minority self-governments, churches, private persons, companies and foundations, only to city councils. According to the Csömör council, the government effectively barred municipal councils, which own the vast majority of school properties and have decades-long experience in school maintenance and management, from maintaining schools.

The lawsuit brought against the Ministry of Human Resources ended after a year in January 2018 when the court determined that multiple parts of the law permitting the nationalization of schools were unconstitutional. At the same time, the court requested the Constitutional Court to annul the unconstitutional parts of the law. The Constitutional Court now has 90 days to make a decision.

István Fábri, independent mayor of Csömör, told that it would be important to return schools to municipal councils financially capable of maintaining them. Fábri said that in the centralized system even the capable municipalities lost their ability to support and develop local schools. Local control of local educational institutions has been lost, parents have no say in the school’s life. Fábri also stressed that in the current system the autonomy of school principals is pointlessly restricted, noting that principals have virtually no employer’s rights.