Budget boost: Good news for stressed parents like all elementary school students to be able to get free textbooks starting next September

All elementary school students will receive free textbooks each year starting next September, in a historic move to eliminate this annual cost to parents.

According to government sources, a further reduction in primary school class sizes will also be announced in tomorrow’s budget.

Additional funds to help thousands of students regain their school bus seats this year are also planned.

An increase in special education spending next September will result in the creation of 370 more classes – 234 in primary school, 136 in secondary school – for students with additional needs.

Agreement was also reached to hire more Special Educational Needs Officers (SENOs) to help parents ensure a child with special needs receives the support to which they are entitled.

In addition to additional SENOs, the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) will receive funding for more administrative staff to improve its service to families and schools.

Overall, the NCSE’s annual funding is expected to nearly double over the next year, with a cash injection of nearly €13 million, the biggest increase to its budget ever.

Schools, like other parts of society and the economy, are pushing for higher per-capita fees to meet rising bills.

As part of the Free Books Initiative, schools receive grants for the bulk purchase and distribution of books and related workbooks on an annual basis.

By today’s standards, parents will save an average of €110 per child, while the total cost to the state will be around €47 million per year.

There is currently a pilot program of free books for schools in disadvantaged areas, while all other schools receive a limited grant to cover book costs.

Almost all elementary schools operate book lending programs supported by government grants, but parents would pay a fee.

Parents’ and children’s groups have been campaigning for free textbooks for years, and it’s an issue that Education Secretary Norma Foley is personally committed to.

In its recent pre-budget proposal, children’s charity Barnardos reiterated its call for free textbooks, saying the average annual cost to parents is €110 for a primary school student.

It will be the third consecutive budget to announce an improvement in the student-teacher ratio (PTR) in primary schools to bring teaching in line with international norms.

Last year’s PTR reduction brought elementary school staffing allocations to a record low of one teacher for every 24 students — 24:1 — which took effect this month.

As a result of the 2023 budget, that will drop to 23:1 next September.

The PTR is a census of all teachers in a school, including special education teachers, and even with recent cuts, Irish primary school classes remain the largest in the EU.

The effect of this government’s first PTR improvement in the 2020 budget was to reduce class size to 22.8 in 2021/2022, still three students per class above the EU standard of 20.

Class sizes are smaller again this September due to the 2022 budget and will be smaller again next September due to tomorrow’s announcement. But the Irish National Teachers Organization (INTO) had campaigned for greater staffing improvements in the 2023 budget – a reduction in staff allocation to 22:1 – to accelerate progress towards the EU average class size.

Ms Foley is also understood to have secured additional funds to resolve the school bus dispute.

Thousands of children who normally traveled on the transport service lost out this year due to a surge in demand following the government’s decision not to charge for tickets for 2022/2023.

There are different categories of students in school bus transport. Students who meet the eligibility criteria will be guaranteed a seat, and if there is capacity, tickets will be randomly allocated to ineligible applicants as “discounted” passengers.

The high number of applications, including eligible students who had not applied for a ticket in previous years, presented a challenge to obtain enough buses and drivers at short notice to meet demand during the tourist off-season.

Bus Éireann, which operates the service – largely with private contractors – has focused on delivering on its commitment to outstanding eligible students.

The problem Ms Foley faced was the thousands of discounted passengers who rely on the service.

In addition to securing the financing of more buses, the special cost-of-living package naturally includes an additional €10 million for a fuel subsidy for school transport.

https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/education/budget-boost-good-news-for-hard-pressed-parents-as-all-primary-pupils-to-get-free-schoolbooks-from-next-september-42016203.html Budget boost: Good news for stressed parents like all elementary school students to be able to get free textbooks starting next September

Fry Electronics Team

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