Wednesday, 27 June 2018
Many parents of schoolgoing children face enormous costs in their daily lives in rearing their children, and the cost of living generally remains a constant pressure on them. This is compounded, made much worse, by the cost of school activities and the ongoing need to contribute to schools' current funding requirements. Parents are fundraising left, right and centre to pay for electricity, heating and other very basic charges that schools must meet. On average, the Government gives a school approximately €46,000 a year for a its operating costs against an average expenditure of approximately €91,000. This is eaten up by lighting, heating, cleaning, insurance, classroom equipment, printing, stationery and so on. Depending on the size of the school, the grant of €170 per pupil can cover between 42% and 62% of a school's costs. In other words, the smaller or more medium-sized the school, the worse the hit. They are particularly disadvantaged. What is very poor is the treatment meted out to DEIS schools, the most disadvantaged schools. The funding gap for them is very difficult and they are hardest hit because they have far less fundraising capacity, with the most needy families and pupils attending such schools.
The funding position in respect of schools is therefore clearly unsustainable. This was revealed in the Grant Thornton report published last February into the current funding issues pertaining to primary schools across the country. The programme for Government committed to annual increases in primary and capitation grants, but the Government has not implemented this commitment. The Minister has in 2018 repeated a commitment made in the 2017 Action Plan for Education, but again there has been no delivery on the commitment. The reason is that the Government is essentially punishing schools and families who fundraise. Why? The Government feels they are taking up the slack. It believes it does not need to add to or prioritise the capitation grant. It is happy to let the schools take up the matter with the various fundraisers. One principal in a small rural school, for example, fundraised for four interactive whiteboards, 15 iPads, new windows and the conversion of a boiler house and store into a learning support room. This is not an exception: such fundraising efforts are going on across the country.
Rhetoric needs to be turned into reality and increased capitation grants need to be provided for in this year's budget and on a phased basis in subsequent budgets and plans. Does the Taoiseach accept that capitation grants at current levels are wholly inadequate to fund our primary schools? Does he accept that small and medium-sized schools and DEIS schools are particularly disadvantaged by the system? Will he commit to a generous increase in capitation grants in this year's budget as the beginning of a phased programme of increases in subsequent years? We will insist on such a provision in this year's budget.