Government cuts and falling enrolments have seen taxpayer funding of fee-paying schools’ teacher salaries drop 11% in five years to below €97m.
But total public funding of around €115m still helps in the running of 56 schools outside the free education scheme, despite continued opposition to the payments from Education Minister Ruairi Quinn’s Labour Party.
A number of fee-paying schools are in talks with the Department of Education about following Kilkenny College into the fully state-funded scheme.
They are feeling the pressures of pupil-teacher ratio increases over and above those imposed by the Government, combined with the impact of fewer families being able to afford their fees.
But the falling cost to the Exchequer is not enough to satisfy some opponents of taxpayer support for the 50-plus schools, more than 30 of which are in Dublin.
The Labour Party wants the subsidies stopped after unanimously backing a motion on the issue just over a week ago.
“These payments amount to education apartheid and promotes privilege among those students whose family can afford to send them to fee-paying schools,” said the motion from the Tipperary North branch.
It came after Mr Quinn made no further cuts to their public funding for Sept 2014 in the budget, beyond those which took effect this term in Budget 2013. His party had voted at last year’s conference to phase out subsidies for fee-paying schools.
A spokeswoman for Mr Quinn said he supports the Labour Party policy in relation to fee-paying schools and has increased their pupil-teacher ratios by three points since taking office.
“However, the minister is part of a coalition government and budgetary decisions are taken by the entire Cabinet, not just by Labour ministers,” she said.
The €96.98m cost for the last school year does not include employers’ PRSI of around 10.5% or the additional cost of clerical staff, special needs supports and other current payments to fee-paying schools by the Department of Education, factors which would bring the full cost to almost €115m.
Sinn Féin education spokesman Jonathan O’Brien, who got the latest figures from Mr Quinn in reply to a Dáil question, said the public funding should be phased out over four or five years except for small Protestant schools that depend on it to offer children places in a school of their own ethos.
“I don’t buy the argument that all these schools would be forced to close. The department’s report earlier this year showed some of the larger schools have huge cash reserves.
“If someone wants to educate their child in a private school, the best of luck to them, but I don’t see why the parent of a child at a school in a disadvantaged area or in poor condition should subsidise a private fee-paying school with their taxes,” he said.
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