Is Austria failing to provide care for special needs children in schools?

Amanda Previdelli
Amanda Previdelli - [email protected]
Is Austria failing to provide care for special needs children in schools?
Pictured: Children at school (Photo by DESIREE MARTIN / AFP)

Teacher's unions have warned the Austrian federal government of the extreme labour shortage and special needs education sector budget caps.


Union leader Paul Kimberger has highlighted the urgent need for support in special education within schools, emphasising the need for increased resources tailored to current conditions rather than being restricted by outdated regulations. 

In an interview with the Austrian newspaper Der Standard, Kimberger stated, "The schools urgently need help in the area of special educational support". He demanded "an increase in special education resources adapted to real needs and not limited by a scurrilous legal cap that has nothing to do with reality."

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Why is there a budget issue?

The union leader explained that the school budget regulation is outdated.

Currently, the allocation of resources for children with special educational needs is based on a figure that is 31 years old. According to the 1992 "financial equalisation scheme" in Austria, additional resources are provided by the federal government for a maximum of 2.7 per cent of schoolchildren requiring special support due to physical or mental disabilities.

However, Statistics Austria reveals that in the school year 2021/22, 5.1 per cent of the 582,969 children enrolled in compulsory schools were students with special educational needs. 

According to the Der Standard report, the significant variation in distribution among federal states is also noteworthy and still unexplained.

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While Tyrol has only 2.8 per cent of special needs students, neighbouring Salzburg has 6.9 per cent, more than double the national average. Vienna and Upper Austria have 5.8 per cent of compulsory school children requiring special education. Burgenland (3.6 per cent) and Styria (4 per cent) have a much lower prevalence of such students. At the same time, Lower Austria (5.3 per cent) and Vorarlberg (5.5 per cent) also exceed the national average.


Because of the budget cap, children who need trained teachers have not received the proper care, Kimberger stated. "So we are missing almost 3,000 service positions to be able to teach and care for these children adequately", he explained.

Considering the average annual cost of a teacher (€50,000), this would result in additional financial requirements in the hundreds of millions. 

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The union representative criticised the withholding of investments from the education system for decades, specifically affecting the most vulnerable individuals in society, due to the bureaucratic negotiations on the "financial equalisation scheme" by the Minister of Finance and provincial governors.


What does the ministry say?

Minister of Education Martin Polaschek (ÖVP) declined to comment on the teachers' union's demands, Der Standard reported. Instead, the ministry said it awaits the results of a study commissioned by the  ÖVP and the Greens coalition on the allocation practice for special educational needs. 

The research consortium, consisting of 17 researchers from 13 Austrian universities and colleges of education and the Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS), is expected to present the findings in the second half of the year.


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