On 16 May 2023, a lecture on the topic of decentralised provision of early-childhood education and care services in Croatia was organised under the auspices of the journal Public Sector Economics. The lecturers included Ivana Dobrotić, Associate Professor at the Department of Social Policy of the Social Work Study Centre at the University of Zagreb Faculty of Law and Teo Matković, Senior Scientific Associate at the Institute for Social Research in Zagreb.

Early-childhood education and care (ECEC) is the first step in the inclusive education system and a form of institutional family support and is strongly supported at the European level. The setting up and funding of this level of education in Croatia is the sole responsibility of cities and municipalities with no formal mechanisms of fiscal equalisation or commitments of local government units to provide capacities for all children.

In this context, the authors observed system capacity development in the period between 2005 and 2018, aiming to determine how frequent changes to the financing rules for cities and municipalities were reflected in their investments in kindergartens. The authors noted substantial differences in service coverage depending on the fiscal and administrative capacity of local government units. In addition, increases in local revenues were only partially transfused in the form of higher investments in ECEC, but did result in faster growth of enrolment capacities. In the years when budgets were reduced, the existing enrolment capacities would remain the same; the expenditures and outlays per child decreased instead. In the observed 15-year period, there were no central state interventions, which led to moderate growth of kindergarten capacities and convergence of their availability. However, the differences still remain, while kindergarten enrolment rates are still among the lowest in the European Union.

As conclusion, the authors considered the challenges to how the ECEC system is financed and to the affordability of services, the extension of capacities that occurred between 2019 and 2021 as well as recent and future investment from the central state level and EU funds in search for an efficient solution that would enable universal availability of nurseries and kindergartens by the end of the current decade.

The event was moderated by Martina Pezer, Researcher at the Institute of Public finance, while the lecture was based on the paper Understanding territorial inequalities in decentralised welfare systems: early childhood education and care system expansion in Croatia.