Schools should not need to call on parents to help fund their energy bills on foot of this week’s budget, Minister for Education Norma Foley has said.
Ms Foley said primary and secondary schools have received a €90 million funding package to pay for energy costs this year, which is equivalent to a 40 per cent increase in capitation payments.
“I think that is considerable. I think it should be sufficient,” she said. “Indeed, I would say that if there’s any school having a particular issue, in terms of energy, they should make direct contact with the department. I don’t for one minute envisage that parents should be called upon, in any shape or form.”
Ms Foley was speaking to reporters at the annual conference of Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI) in Carlow on Thursday evening.
The Catholic Primary Schools Management Association (CPSMA), which supports more than 2,800 primary schools, welcomed the additional funding this week at a time when “school budgets are being battered by a perfect storm of rapidly rising energy costs and price increases in paper and other teaching materials”.
However, it said schools will still need parents’ support this year in the form of voluntary contributions to make ends meet.
Many schools, however, have reported that voluntary contributions — typically paid at the start or in advance of the school year — are down this year compared to last.
Minister of State for special education Josepha Madigan told RTÉ Radio on Thursday that voluntary contributions were a matter for individual schools.
She added that no parent should be obliged to pay voluntary contributions and that a long-standing circular is in place which states this.
Separately, there is anger among many fee-charging primary and secondary schools that they have been excluded from the energy funding package.
Some smaller and more rural private schools, in particular, argue that they are struggling to meet basic running costs and have been unfairly excluded from a range of funding sources over recent years.
Ms Foley said earlier this week that her department was open to requests for additional support from fee-charging schools on a “case-by-case” basis.
Separately, the Minister for Education told delegates at the ETBI conference that considerable funding is being made available to schools and parents this year, including a “groundbreaking” free schoolbooks initiative at primary level.
She signalled that she is keen to extend the initiative to second-level schools over the coming years.
“I feel that it [free schoolbooks] is an indication of the enormous commitment which Government has for the education sector and will ultimately advance greater equality and inclusion and promote better educational outcomes right across the board,” she said.
“Indeed, it is my personal hope and ambition that further progress can be made in respect of this initiative through future budgets.”