This morning's Irish Times reports that taxpayers forked out €100m to "support" private fee-paying schools. Sounds like a scandal in these economically straitened times. Yet ...
The implication of the Times' report is that this is money being provided to the rich. Well, to an extent maybe it is, but there are aspects of this funding that the Times overlooks that should be included in any discussion on whether this money should be withdrawn.
First of all, there are many people who choose to send their children to such schools despite not being rich. These people forgo some of life's luxuries for the sake of their children's education that other people in their income bracket can afford because they send their children to free schools.
Next, let's imagine a scenario where all the state money is withdrawn from the fee-paying schools. What then? Obviously the fees at these schools will have to go up - way up. Teachers - all ASTI members - will have to be let go; some of the state-mandated nonsense would be jettisoned (think CSPE, etc); and class sizes would have to be increased.
Perhaps, however, the most telling impact would be an instant increase in demand for places in the free secondary schools because without question many of the parents would need to take their children out of the fee-paying schools. That would immediately lead to problems. Places in the free schools would be at a premium because they wouldn't be able to cope with demand.
As parents withdraw their children from the fee-paying schools, some of those schools would be forced to close, creating more pressure on the free schools. Or the fee-paying schools would abandon their fees and join the free sector.
That last scenario is probably more likely for many of the fee-paying schools and possibly the most costly option for the state. The capitation grant available to a fee-paying school is less than half that for a free school (€212 per pupil vs €557), which would mean that the school would get an €345 per pupil from the state. In addition, the pupil-teacher ratio in each of the now free schools would mean that the state would have to foot the bill for a new teacher for every 400 students.
What benefit, exactly, does the state derive from the move to punish fee-paying schools? Well, we get the joy of seeing some high-fallutin' people punished. I mean, after all, some of those kids are probably bankers' children. They deserve it as do their children. Who cares if the decision costs us taxpayers millions?