THE Palma city council will spend 3.3 million euros on subsidising school text books next year, Mayor Catalina Cirer announced yesterday. The initiative will benefit 31'754 primary and secondary schoolchildren who attend school in the city.
Cirer made the announcement while presenting the city's budget for next year. She was accompanied by Regelio Araujo, head of the culture and education department.
Cirer said that the 3.3 million euros was just the first step to free school books, a promise which had been included in the Partido Popular's electoral programme in 2003.
The subsidies will range from 35 euros for three year olds in nursery school to 150 euros for pupils in primary schools.
The aid is available to students at private as well as state schools, and the council hopes to extend the aid to secondary modern schools during the 2007-08 term. There is a possibility of it being extended to higher education the following year.
Cirer explained that the PP's electoral campaign promised free books for obligatory education, that is, primary and secondary modern, although the city council will begin with nursery schools to make the programme coherent. Cirer's announcement came as something of a surprise as at a council meeting last week, Araujo, in answer to a socialist request for free school books, said that it was not one of its priorities at the moment.
However, yesterday, he said that the council had not wanted to announce the move at that particular plenary session, as it first of all had to see if the budget would run to it.
The councillor added that before deciding on the initiative, the council had approached the Balearic ministry of education and culture, which also said it had other priorities such as investing in infrastructures, and it had no plans to introduce free books as the central government had not sent the funds needed to ease shortages in education in the Balearics.
If the central ministry comes through with the money, Araujo said, free school books could be available for all children in the Balearics.
Palma is just one of several councils, which include Calvia, to provide free school books for children, a move which has caused parents associations to protest.
Earlier this week, the Federation of Parents Associations of Majorca offered the Balearic ministry of education 15 million euros to set up a system of lending and re-using text books in local schools.
This amount is what the Federation believes that local families have to spend on school books every year.
A spokesman for the ministry said that they were willing to sit down and discuss the matter.
The Federation has criticised the councils which are providing free books, claiming that in the long run the cost is unsustainable, adding that the system of loaning and re-using books is much more efficient, but needs the involvement of the ministry.