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Open Letter to the Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe T.D.


19th September 2018 | General Secretary's Blog


Open Letter to the Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe T.D.

 

Dear Minister,

As you know the annual appearance of the entirely unpredicted black hole in the Health services budget marks the official start of budget negotiation season between the Department of Finance and the other Government Departments. It’s the Government equivalent of senior hurling, a few short weeks of intense no holds barred battle between Ministers and their senior officials for the resources to deliver the programme for Government and their place in the Governmental pecking order.

 

Over the next few weeks there will be a myriad of articles from NGO’s urging you to spend money on people who don’t and will never vote for you, and Economists urging you to save for a rainy day – so that a Minister for Finance from another party can spend the money instead. Solemn opinion articles will appear in the Irish Times telling you that for a mere trifle, a billion or so spent on the writers’ pet project we could be just like Sweden. If there was a tax on unsolicited advice you would have a lot more money to play around with.

I am not writing to you with advice but with a gentle reminder. Last year commenting on your first Budget you said that in formulating your budget plans you were thinking of “the boys and girls in our Primary Schools I see the atmosphere that they are in I want them to have the best future possible”.  Minister I believe you, and in this years’ budget, I think you have a real opportunity to turn rhetoric into reality by restoring the capitation grant to €200.

The measure would cost approximately €19m to do so, which is in the context of overall Government spending is a rounding error. The Capitation Grant is meant to cover the day to day running costs of the school, and the cost of educational materials, on average covers just over half the running costs of schools. Already hard pressed parents are contributing a not insignificant €46m a year to keep schools solvent, the lights on, water in the taps and heating oil in the tank not to mention educational materials.

Cuts to the capitation grant have cost primary schools about €110m. As the recent Chief Inspector’s Report pointed out expenditure per pupil in Ireland has fallen by 15% since 2010 and at primary level is now below the OECD and EU average. In fact Ireland now spends less per pupil than the US, UK, Belgium, Sweden, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland and Norway.

The true cost of underfunding to schools is not just financial, but the significant opportunity cost of principals who should be focused on leading, and boards of management focused on supporting teaching and learning, having to focus instead on fundraising and financial fire-fighting instead. It’s not a good use of their time.

In the sober words of accountant who works with a number of schools “From my experience there is no doubt that if a primary school does not have a proactive fund raising committee of some sort then the result for the year is a deficit and any cash reserve is quickly depleted”. This creates “stress and hardship for Primary School staff at a time when their focus should be on settling the children back in to a new school year.”

Minister I believe you when you say that you approach the business of crafting a budget with the future of Ireland’s children on mind. All responsible Parents tend approach budgeting that way. I would urge that this year you begin the process of putting the primary education system on a sound financial footing by restoring the capitation grant to €200 so that schools are under less financial pressure and can focus more on teaching and learning and less on financial firefighting.

Minister I look forward to this years’ budget where I am confident you will prove to be a man of your word capable of crafting a budget that delivers not only a better future for our primary children but a better present as well.

 

Yours sincerely Seamus Mulconry General Secretary CPSMA


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