Quinn insists no decision made on fee-paying schools
MINISTER FOR Education Ruairí Quinn has insisted no decisions have been made about State funding for fee-paying schools in the forthcoming budget.
He said, however, that “the Cabinet must examine all available options”.
The Minister was responding to Fine Gael parliamentary party chairman Charlie Flanagan and backbencher Eoghan Murphy, who both sharply criticised Labour Minister of State Alan Kelly for remarks he made about potential cuts in funding to private schools.
Mr Kelly said on RTÉ that “the day of being able to give €96 million to €100 million for private schools is something that is going to come to an end”.
Mr Flanagan claimed public debate on the issue had been “shrouded in claims of elitism and privilege and a false perception exemplified by the comments of Minister of State Kelly” that parents who sacrificed to send their children to fee-paying schools “can afford to pay more and more so the State can pay less and less”.
Mr Murphy said a Minister “is able to fly a kite on a particular issue yet new Government deputies are being shut out of the process completely”.
He called for a broader debate in the Dáil on the budgetary process and among the public so that “people will not be misinformed about what the Government is thinking”.
Mr Flanagan expressed particular concern about the protection of special block funding of €6.5 million to 26 Protestant fee-paying schools in 12 counties because of the “need to cherish the plurality of educational expression”.
Mr Murphy said that if there was going to be a debate “let us have a full and informed debate”.
He said that while the State paid a €100 million subvention to private schools “there is a saving to the State to the tune of €93 million” because it was €3,500 cheaper for the State to have a child taught in a fee-paying school.
He also said a debate on education should also look at the €63 million to be paid next year in increments to teachers and at the €50 million paid to primary teachers for yard duty.
The Minister said there were “no proposals to change” the block grant system to Protestant schools. He said a final report on an analysis of tuition fee income in private schools “is nearing completion and will feed into the consideration of the budget”.
Fee-paying schools had been asked what their income was, what it was used for and whether the income was used to underwrite the cost of new building or to pay for additional services and tuition. He said that when the analysis was completed they would “then consider what options, if any, are open to us”.
When Mr Murphy asked that the Dáil be allowed to discuss the final report before a decision was taken the Minister said much of the information schools gave the Government was on the basis of a degree of confidentiality and he would have to take that into consideration “if we are to have a meaningful discussion on the issue prior to the budget”.
Mr Quinn said no section of the budget “has been ring-fenced or is sacrosanct other than what is protected by the Croke Park agreement. That will remain the case until a new deal is put in place.”
But he said that if there was a new deal “it is up to everybody involved to decide what they want to put on the table”.