School budgets are to come under significant pressure in the coming months as the Department of Education confirmed no additional funding has been approved to tackle the high cost of combatting the Covid-19 fallout.
The fallout from the virus is expected to have financial impacts on each aspect of the sector, from primary school to third-level.
Education Minister Joe McHugh has said that the prospective bill for hand sanitisers for schools for one term alone could total €24m.
The Higher Education Authority has also outlined a potential shortfall in the higher education sector of at least €500m.
While additional funding has been approved for three other departments, no decision has been taken to amend the Department of Education budget.
“Therefore, all expenditure pressures arising are to be met within the existing budgetary allocations,” a spokesman said.
The department is continuing to examine the financial impacts of Covid-19 across the sector, and is engaging with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on future funding requirements, he added.
It comes as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed that primary and secondary schools will reopen at the end of August.
However, he added: “That might not mean that every student is able to return every day for the full day, but our objective is to have things as close to normal as possible.”
Following a Cabinet meeting yesterday, Mr Varadkar said reopening the schools would not be without risk, although the risks are considered low.
“It may be necessary to phase in primary schools and secondary schools. Our objective is to open them as fully and as soon as possible for all kids,” he said,
His announcement came less than 24 hours after Mr McHugh said he would not accept a “half return” to schools, leading to accusations of mixed messages to parents from the Government.
Labour’s education spokesman, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, said: “The inability of the Government to give clear messaging is beyond frustrating.”
Sinn Féin’s Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said the confusion is “beyond a joke”, adding: “There has been no consistency, they keep switching back and forth. Parents are none the wiser, and no contact has been made with schools.”
Meanwhile, research by members of the HSE Public Health Medicine team has found no evidence of Covid-19 spreading due to children attending schools here.
Schools are not a high-risk setting for spreading the virus between students, or between students and staff, according to the research study published by Eurosurveillance, a European journal on infectious disease surveillance.
While small, the study looked at all known cases linked to school attendance in the Republic. Three paediatric cases and three adult cases of Covid-19 were identified.
The study found there was no onward transmission to other children or adults within a school in any of these cases. This included other settings like music lessons and choir practice, both identified currently as high-risk activities for transmission.
“Among 1,025 child and adult contacts of these six cases in the school setting, there were no confirmed cases of Covid-19 during the follow-up period.”