Schools press parents for voluntary payments

Parents are being pressured into giving schools hundreds of euro in “voluntary” contributions because the Government is failing to give the facilities the money they need to survive.

The latest Dáil education and social protection committee meeting was yesterday given the blunt warning by parents’ groups, which said families feel they are being used as “fundraising” cash cows.

Speaking during a debate on a [url=http://www.oireachtas.ie/parliament/media/committees/educationandsocialprotection/REPORT-on-Tackling-Back-to-School-Costs-finalisation-FINAL-4.pdf]back-to-school costs report by the cross-party group, National Parents Council Primary and National Parents Council Post-Primary officials said families are regularly put in situations where they feel they have no option other than to pay the “voluntary” charges.

NPC-Primary spokeswoman Áine Lynch said 65% of schools seek some form of additional financial support from parents to keep running services such as music and swimming classes, and to pay for financial overheads.

She said these requests are often made through numerous “reminder” letters either sent to homes or given to children attending the facilities.

School board representatives insisted the contributions are entirely voluntary and play no part in whether a child is allowed to be enrolled or not.

However, Ms Lynch said parents still feel as though they are effectively obliged to pay more than €200 extra a year in order to prevent “friction” for their children in the classes.

“Our own research shows 65% of schools ask parents for a contribution, while 35% don’t,” said Ms Lynch. “So what’s happening in these 35% of schools that the others can learn from?

“Schools need to set up separate financial committees instead of using parents or parent councils as a fundraising tool.”

This position was repeated by NPC-Post Primary official, Jim Moore.

Reacting to the comments, Fr Paul Connell, president of the Joint Management Board and the Association of Catholic Secondary Schools, told the committee any contributions are entirely voluntary.

However, he said the reality is “we have small schools which are struggling to survive” and that money is needed to pay for extra-curricular classes, electricity, and heating bills.

Citing an example of a five-figure oil bill he paid in recent days for the academic year, Fr Connell added: “If we can’t get the money from the Department [of Education], we must from the parents.”

As reported by the Irish Examiner last month, one-in-five religious/voluntary schools asks parents for a voluntary contribution of at least €200 a year. Half ask for supplementary funds in excess of €150 a year.

In all, 87% of religious/voluntary schools seek some form of extra payment, a rate that compares to half of facilities run by education and training boards and just over one third of community and comprehensive schools.

The figures were detailed in a recent report by the independent Economic and Social Research Institute.

Meanwhile, the committee was also told that despite a growing belief that schools should invest in e-books for classes, parents also face losing out financially under the moves.

Current EU licensing laws mean e-books are only available for a single year.

This means they cannot be passed down from child to child like traditional text books, meaning cash-strapped parents with a number of children potentially face seeing their overheads surge.


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