Public subsidies for school book purchases have nosedived during the economic crisis. But according to a report from the Ombudsman's Office, which notes a 45-percent drop in financing in the last four years, the crisis "explains but does not justify this reduction."
In the last academic year alone, more than 1.1 million students have lost their grants for textbooks, a figure that represents 36.4 percent of all beneficiaries. The cutbacks come at a time when families' finances have been "seriously hit," according to the report.
"There are many families without income or with very precarious income [...] who more than ever need the premise of free basic education for their children to become a reality," the report continues.
The grant represents anywhere between 70 and 180 euros, depending on the schooling period and the region. The Ombudsman's report, dated October 2013 and to which EL PAÍS has had access, reviews trends from the 2008-2009 academic year to 2012-2013. According to the figures, the Education Ministry's contribution to the grants has dropped 74 percent, while regional governments as a whole contributed 34 percent less. There are major differences among the regions, however: contributions to textbook subsidies collapsed by more than 90 percent in the Balearics, Cantabria, Castilla-La Mancha, Catalonia and La Rioja, while they actually rose in Andalusia (13.3 percent) and the Basque Country (6.2 percent).
It is obvious that other expenses have taken priority"
"Regional contribution as a whole was always notably superior to the state's," reads the report. "As for the latter, after remaining relatively constant at around 80 million euros in previous academic years, in 2012-2013 it dropped to a quarter of that."
And things are set to get worse this year, as the ministry has all but eliminated its budget for school books in 2014: the total available amount will be 1.4 million euros, 92 percent less than in 2011.
"It is obvious that other expenses have taken priority, without considering the short and medium-term consequences derived from insufficient investment in compulsory education levels."
And while there has been a multiplication of initiatives aimed at book donation and second-hand markets, "these must not replace public responsibility in the matter, nor eliminate investment in books and what it means for the publishing industry."
The report is based on the idea that if schooling is compulsory and free, then this should include everything related to it, such as school books. But given "the absence of common goals and criteria" between regional governments to achieve this, the report demands "the implementation of book loan and reutilization systems."
While some loan programs already exist, the report notes that there is a parental preference for subsidies for new books, in which students can freely make notes. Publishers also prefer this model because it enables them to sell more: 25 percent of publishing in Spain depends on school textbooks.
However, the report also underscores the fact that subsidies never cover the full amount, that the loan system is cheaper, and that it instills in students "attitudes of respect and conservation of common goods."