Ghost-classes allegation ignites new controversy between government and state-funded private schools

The rocky relationship between the education ministry (responsible for State-funded schools) and private colleges which receive State subsidies through contracts of association rounded a very unpleasant corner this week, with allegations that colleges may have been receiving money in the past for “ghost-classes”.

National tabloid Correio da Manhã suggests that if this is the case, colleges receiving €80,500 per class could be deemed to have committed fraud.

For now, the education inspectorate “is investigating”. But private colleges have reacted with indignation, saying the claims have been made with no substantiation whatsoever.

The row began on Tuesday when education secretary Alexandra Leitão told the parliamentary education committee set up to scrutinise alterations to contracts of association that her department had detected “ghost classes”.

As a result, this year “for the first time”, she said, validation of classes at private colleges will be done using lists that give all the pupils’ names.

“Situations of ghost classes will thus end,” Leitão explained, adding: “In the contracts of association, there are various colleges with validated classes that did not have any pupils.”

But that is as far as the education secretary went.

As CM explains, “she was not questioned by MPs on her declarations”, and journalists’ own inquiries since have “not received any clarification”.

Rodrigo Queiroz e Melo of AEEP, the association of private and cooperative education establishments, reacted to the allegations, saying: “We are now asking for detailed information. You cannot just throw suspicions on a sector without being specific. If irregular situations existed, I hope the education ministry will have acted. If they didn’t, it is time for a public apology.”

CM says AEEP considers Leitão’s words “a lamentable campaign of disinformation”, but reports that elsewhere councils are challenging at least one private college with an “action of popular justice”.

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