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Free school transport may end under money-saving proposals

Families may be charged for school buses under cost-saving proposals

FAMILIES could be charged an annual fee for school buses under proposals being considered by the Education Authority.

Primary school pupils currently get free transport if they live more than two miles from their school, with post-primary students qualifying if they are more than three miles away.

The BBC reported yesterday that the Education Authority (EA) is considering asking some families to pay a fee of between £50 and £200 a year per pupil.

The body needs to cut costs by about £45 million in 2016/17 and make further savings over the following two years.

Chief executive Gavin Boyd said it was considering several ways to cut spending.

Other money-saving measures include an increase in the price of school meals.

"We have been considering every aspect of our spending and service delivery," Mr Boyd said.

"Transport reform is a key part of our review of services.

"A range of options are being considered including whether some parents may be asked to contribute to the costs of providing school transport."

He said any change would need to be subject to a public consultation and have the support of the education minister.

Sinn Féin MLA Barry McElduff, who is chairman of the assembly education committee, said he was concerned by the proposal.

"I think there are empty and available spaces on school buses that could be better utilised," he said.

"I would like a debate about increasing access to school transport rather than reducing it.

"There needs to be a larger education budget and we are suffering from a Tory austerity agenda. This should not translate into ending free school bus entitlement for families."

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