The proposal to introduce school bus charges of €500 per annum for primary school children who are currently entitled to free travel and an additional €200 per secondary school child has been condemned.
Sinn Fein councillor Rose Conway-Walsh has suggested the move could force families unable to pay the fees to take their children out of school and result in students falling out of the education system.
“Colm McCarthy’s recommendation that school transport should be increased to €500 is ludicrous. Attempts to again increase school transport for second level students must be stopped. The 2009 increases which took costs from €168 to €300 has already led to a drop of 10,000 students using school transport. The financial strain of families trying to find an extra €200 per child is too much to bear for many households. This is apart from the safety issues and the blatant contradiction to environmental policy.”
Ms Conway-Walsh said an educated workforce was imperative in the struggle against the economic catastrophe. “Increasing the barriers to education by making school transport unaffordable is one sure way of ensuring children don’t get to school. We already have almost 20 per cent of our population leaving school without being able to read and write to an adequate standard. The proposition will have an even greater negative impact on rural areas where very limited public transport is available. Last year’s increase has forced parents here in Erris to drive to school or arrange a lift for their children to school. Further increases will put more children off the school buses which will then make it easier for the Department of Education and Transport to cut routes altogether.”
Cllr Conway-Walsh added that decisions around the proposed increase are to be finalised this week. “I am asking parents to telephone Mary Coughlan and the Department of Education to express their outrage at attempts to increase the cost of school transport,” she said.