Lisbon braces for yellow caravan of thousands, protesting over ‘college’ funding cuts

As many as 20,000 teachers, schoolchildren, parents and council representatives from all parties are expected to converge on Lisbon today as the row over proposed funding cuts to private ‘colégios’ escalates.

DEP – the movement for the defence of private schools that benefit from hefty amounts of State funding (click here) – claims the issue threatens “the Constitutional right to freedom of education”.

The Catholic Church, which runs most of these schools, agrees – and has said it is backing today’s demonstration as well as “other initiatives that, with order and civism, defend the liberty of parents to choose a school and educational projects that they want to offer their children”.

A statement from the Portuguese Episcopal Conference said yesterday that all the parents involved in this fight “pay taxes, even when they opt for public education in schools generated by private entities”.

But the righteous indignation, characterised by school-children, parents and teachers all decked out in yellow t-shirts, appears to be glossing over the maths.

Portuguese media has been explaining that these private schools receive more money per class than schools in the State system.

National tabloid Correio da Manhã puts it at €80,500 per class, as opposed to €57,000 in normal public schools.

It is this discrepancy that prompted the decision by the education ministry to cut back on funding, precluding the opening of new school ‘phases’ affecting 377 classes.

The ruling means thousands of pupils due to start either secondary, GCSE or A-level equivalent schooling are now faced with the prospect of doing so within the State system.

As one school director has explained, this will wipe out 10 of his school’s 32 classes.

“It is a veritable sangria for those who work here”, António Franco of Viseu’s College of Immaculate Conception told reporters.

“We are not asking for privileges”, explained a mother of three of the college’s pupils. “The money from the State comes from our taxes as well. But if they want to close schools, they should start with the one’s of least quality” – in other words, not with private colleges which pride themselves on standards and achievement.

Today’s protest, which is bringing throngs to the capital on a “liberty train”, is due to arrive at Santa Aplónia station at midday and will begin in earnest at 3pm – starting on Avenida July 24 and finishing outside the Assembleia da República (parliamentary building).

According to reports, the education ministry is due to meet parents and ‘affected councils’ next week, while it has stressed that the way forwards is up to the administrative courts’ interpretation of the colleges’ ‘contracts of association’.

[email protected]