Sunday 17 November 2019

Cutting grants for fee schools doesn't add up

Some Labour politicians would like to squeeze fee-paying schools until the pips squeak.

Labour's Minister of State Alan Kelly has suggested that "in principle'' the days of paying 55 fee-paying schools a subsidy of almost €100m annually must end.

In the eyes of a section of Mr Kelly's party, the subsidy to private education reinforces a form of "educational apartheid".

Whipping up populist fervour against private schools may play well in the Labour ranks, but the old Blackrock boy Ruairi Quinn would be wise to pause before ransacking the coffers of the fee-paying sector.

The vast bulk of the private school subsidy goes to paying the salaries of teachers.

It is inevitable that there will be some kind of cut to this subsidy in the upcoming Budget. Even some of the country's most disadvantaged schools are now having to scrape by on less money from the State.

But the 'big bang' approach advocated by the more atavistic sections of the Labour Party -- with a slash and burn attack on private schools -- would have a disastrous effect.

Fee-paying schools would inevitably have to hike their fees to pay teachers.

While some of the elite establishments such as Blackrock and Clongowes would survive with enormously-inflated fees, others would have to shut down or become free schools.

Middle-of-the-road schools and middle-of-the-road parents would fall on the mercy of the state.

As well as paying the salaries of teachers, Ruairi Quinn would have to pay for buildings and the whole panoply of grants paid to free schools.

Special measures might be made to secure the funding of Protestant schools, because of their unique historical system of funding, but no government will want to be seen to favour one religion over another.

The savings made by drastic cuts to private schools are only likely to be short-term. Creating a whole new cohort of private school refugees would inevitably bring extra costs.

Targeting private schools may satisfy the egalitarian sensibilities of Labour backbenchers, but in terms of raw economics it deserves an E grade.

Irish Independent

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