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Madrid to introduce free public daycare from 2019

Nearly 9,000 children up to three years of age are set to benefit from the measure, which will be applied in 68 centers

One of the classrooms of the San Antón municipal preschool.
One of the classrooms of the San Antón municipal preschool.

Madrid City Hall has approved free enrollment at public daycare centers for children between zero and three years of age. A total of 8,768 children at 69 centers are set to benefit from the measure, which will take effect in the 2019-2020 school year. The program will cost the local government around €1 million a year. Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena hopes the plan will improve early education and help families achieve a better work-life balance.

In Spain, 37.9% of children between zero and three are in school

Another goal of Madrid City Hall is to improve conditions for people who work in early childhood education. Unlike private daycare centers, public centers must have two adults present in the classroom – a teacher or a professional with vocational training.

Currently, the daycare rates are calculated based on a family’s income. Families who earn a yearly income of €5,644 or less pay €14 a month, which is the lowest fee available. In the 2016-2017 school year, fees were reduced by 78% for families in the lowest income bracket.

Since Carmena was elected mayor, Madrid City Hall has invested more than €27 million in building 13 new daycare centers in the capital, adding to the 56 pre-existing centers.

The program will cost Madrid City Hall around €1 million a year

According to international organizations such as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), early education for children between the ages of zero and three has a positive effect on future school performance, especially in children from disadvantaged families. In Spain, 37.9% of children between zero and three are in school, above the OECD average of 33%. But there are significant differences between Spanish regions. The Basque Country tops Spain’s regions in early education, with 52.4% of children enrolled in daycare. In other regions, such as the Canary Islands, that figure is 16.8%. In Madrid, 48.8% of children in the zero-to-three age group attend an early-learning center.

Early education between the ages of zero and three is not compulsory in Spain – it is the families who decide. The current education law guarantees places to cover the demand for children between three and six years of age. Since 2002, children in this age group have been able to attend early learning centers for free. But this is not the case for children under three. The result is that 1.2 million children between three and six are enrolled in school in Spain (97%), compared to 468,652 (37.9%) of children in the first age bracket.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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