Free school transportation to cost government €18.1 million a year

While free transportation for state school students costs the government €8.1 million per year, it would cost €10 million yearly to offer free transportation for church school and independent school students

Free school transportation for all school children, which will be in place from next September, will cost the government €18.1 million a year.

During Monday’s Parliamentary questions, former PN leader Simon Busuttil asked Education Minister Evarist Bartolo several questions regarding the school transportation system.

While free transportation for state school students costs the government €8.1 million per year, Bartolo said it would cost €10 million yearly to offer free transportation for church school and independent school students.

Before last year’s general election, the government had pledged to provide free, supervised school transport to all school children in Malta. Just last week, the Education Ministry released a White Paper for consultation on the new service. The consultation process will be open for a month.

Although state school students already benefit from free transportation, Bartolo said that only around 12,000 students – making up 34.7% of all students – make use of the transport.

Free school transport for all students is expected to boost the number of children that will make use of it as from the next scholastic year, research undertaken by the Education Ministry shows.

The study carried out by audit firm Grant Thornton found that 14,000 more students could be expected to use school transport as a result of the new scheme.

The first phase of the new transport system will start at the beginning of the next scholastic year and will be implemented in phases.


How will the Free Transportation System work?

In another question, Bartolo directed Busuttil to an education ministry website which featured more information regarding the issue.

The site read that the ministry’s proposal would not change much in terms of logistics and the current system in place.

In the case of state schools, the government pays the service providers directly, with parents not having to pay any transport fees. On the other hand, the payment mechanism for non-state schools is not standardised, and so at this stage the government would not intervene. Instead, parents sending their students to non-state schools would pay transport services and then receive a full refund, covering the rate agreed upon with the accredited transport providers.

The system would see parents gaining an average saving of approximately €500 for the service they currently pay for.

When it comes to route planning, the ministry would remain responsible for state schools and would not intervene when it comes to route planning of non-state schools.

While the deal breaker for most parents appeared to be onboard supervision of students, which is currently unavailable, the ministry said that all transport would be supervised. Educators would later be able to apply through an expression of interest that will be published. This initiative is on a voluntary basis and additional compensation will be provided.

While supervision services would first be offered to existing and retired educators, any positions which remain unfilled could be taken up by interested third-party operators contacted to provide qualified supervisors.

Supervisors would be responsible for keeping attendance records, maintaining order and reporting any incident to the respective school.

In fact, once the refund application is received, it would be checked against the attendance records which supervisors would keep track of. Refunds in respect of students whose attendance is lower than the acceptable threshold will be adjusted accordingly.

The government also plans to pay for the transport supervision services directly to teaching grades within state schools, while reimbursing the church and independent schools for transport supervision in the case of non-state schools.

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