“The EEA grant played an indispensible role in catapulting FCG from a small constellation of pilot projects to a national program in 18 months.“ “ Leslie Hawke, OvidiuRo cofounder
The 2014 European Economic Area grant from Norway, Iceland & Liechtenstein vastly accelerated OvR’s parnerships with county councils and school inspectorates as a step toward national scale up. The grant also added a more robust parent and teacher education component to FCG and funded an independent impact evaluation that concluded that FCG has a strong impact on attendance of poor children in preschool AND on the attendance rate after they leave preschool.
Most importantly, with the Civil Society Development Foundation tehnical assistance, the EEA grant enabled OvR to target its financial and human resources to expanding the program in three counties: Brașov, Dâmbovița, and Dolj, where the County Councils were already favorably impressed with FCG outcomes.
The OvidiuRo RFP sent to all jurisdictions in the three counties resulted in 45 applications for the six slots in the EEA funded budget. Thanks to the fortitude of OvidiuRo’s field team – and financial support from Raiffeisen Bank in Brașov, Cargill in Dolj, Carrefour Foundation and other donors from the business sector, OvR was able to accept over twice as many new communities as the grant covered – from 6 to 13, thus providing early education to an additional 700 disadvantaged children.
The most ambitious grant objective was to transfer the food coupon costs from the EEA Grant to the county operating budgets by the beginning of the 2015 school year. Toward this end a series of meetings and Media Day events were held in each county. These activities were effective in raising general awareness and garnering support from county authorities – but they also brought to the fore a major hurdle to scaling up nationally: did counties really have the authority to allocate food coupons (tichete sociale) for this purpose? Tichete sociale are mentioned in the 2011 Social Assistance Law as an acceptable form of social benefit payments, but the necessary secondary legislation setting forth the specific regulations, was never issued. While food coupons were being used by local authorities in certain counties (e.g. Cluj), Brașov, Dâmbovița and Dolj county councils were not willing to allocate public money for this purpose without the clear, specific legal authority to do so – despite encouragement from both the Minister of Education and the Minister of Labor.
After numerous government meetings, in late February 2015, it was concluded that the only way to clarify the mechanism by which public authorities can allocate food coupons for preschool attendance, was to draft a special law. The support and counsel of the State Secretary of Labor, Codrin Scutaru led to the introduction of legislation by a prominent Parliament member, Daniel Constantin, in March. Despite the widespread opinion among policy advisors and politicians alike that a quick legislative fix would be virtually impossible, OvR proceeded to work on getting the legislation passed so that the programs started in 2014 with EEA funds could continue for the 2015 school year even though the EEA monies had largely run out.
A favorable notice from the Government in September, led the Deputy Chamber Labor Committee to modify the legislation. Instead of merely giving the counties the authority to allocate food coupons for this purpose, the Chamber of Deputies amended the legislation to make the program (food coupons conditional on preschool attendance) a national program funded from the state budget – since the counties that needed it the most would be the least able to afford it from their local budgets. The bill was passed on the 7th of October and signed into law by the President on the 28th of October 2015.
Here are some testimonies from parents and local team members from Budila, Brașov county, one of the communities which benefitted from the EEA Grants 2009-2014.