Dáil debates

Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Financial Resolutions 2022 - Financial Resolution No. 6: General: Financial Resolution (Resumed)


5:55 pm

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on budget 2023 and how it pertains to education. I am joined by my colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for special education, Deputy Madigan.

Budget 2023 provides for an increase of more than €440 million in core funding for the Department of Education. This is a very significant increase and one that furthers the work of recent years in reducing class sizes, reducing costs for families, tackling disadvantage and supporting the achievement of all students.

The introduction of a new scheme to provide schoolbooks free of charge for all students in primary school has been a priority of mine since taking office and signifies an entirely new chapter in Irish primary education. This permanent initiative will greatly reduce the burden on families and reflects the importance this Government places on education for all children.

In this budget, the Government is also continuing to deliver on its commitment to reduce class sizes. For the third consecutive year, I have brought in a measure to reduce class sizes by lowering the staffing schedule for schools, bringing it to an historic low of 23:1 in primary school. When the new staffing schedule will be implemented in the next school year, we will see further reductions in average class sizes and in the pupil-teacher ratio. It is a remarkable achievement that in every budget for the past three budgets over which I have presided that we have successfully reduced the pupil-teacher ratio by one point, as I said, bringing it to a historic low of 23:1.

Since 2021, the Government has invested in an enhanced summer programme to support students at risk of educational disadvantage and help mitigate learning loss as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The programme has been extremely successful and the Minister of State and I are very pleased to announce funding this year to maintain the availability of this programme for all schools. It has been enormously valuable to students and continues to grow in popularity and impact. The Department is currently reviewing the summer programme in order to maximise the number of schools offering it and the number of students availing of summer provision in schools. The review involves engaging with other jurisdictions and stakeholders.

Other new measures are included to address the impacts of Covid-19 and increase retention rates of students in schools, especially those from groups at risk of educational disadvantage. I am also announcing social inclusion measures that include enhancing the capacity of the education welfare services in Tusla that come under my Department's remit, as well as an increase in schools completion programme funding and funding for the home-school community liaison programme.

The Department of Education is also anxious to ensure a significant capital allocation to continue the roll-out of Project Ireland 2040, under which our schools will receive €4.4 billion in capital investment over the period from 2021 to 2025. This significant investment allows us to move forward with certainty on our ambitious plans and to deliver high-quality school building projects with a real focus on sustainability for our school communities across Ireland.

The budget allocation of €860 million for 2023 will deliver 300 building projects that are currently at the construction phase. The majority of these projects are expected to be completed in 2023. These projects include 50 new school buildings and extensions to approximately 250 schools. The continued roll-out of the national development plan will involve a further 150 school building projects that are currently at advanced stages of planning. These will commence construction in 2023.

This budget also provides funding in 2023 to progress our plans for senior cycle reform, which is also rooted in student well-being and putting students at the centre of the process, as they always should be. This is the single largest reform of the leaving certificate since it was established in 1925. It is right and proper that appropriate resources are now provided to advance this programme of reform.

I have always believed that education is the very cornerstone of our country and I am very pleased to see that this Government is making such a significant investment in our education sector. This education budget is a progressive and inclusive budget that places learners and their needs at its very centre.

I also welcome many of the other initiatives in budget 2023 such as the double payment of all welfare payments in October in addition to the normal double payment at Christmas, energy credits of €600 per family, a reduction of an average of €1,200 a year in childcare fees, two €500 tax credits for renters, a €500 grant for carers and those with disabilities, a €12 increase in core welfare payments, a reduction of €1,000 in college fees for all students, double SUSI payments, energy supports of up to €10,000 a month for SMEs, funding for 1,000 additional gardaí, a publicly funded IVF scheme, the extension of the GP visit card scheme meaning that more than half the population will now be eligible and free contraception for women up to 30 years of age. This has very much been a cost-of-living budget to support families and all sectors of our society. I welcome budget 2023.


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