The debt problems threatening to engulf Italy, if not the entire eurozone, have pushed the Italian school system to the verge of collapse, according to those charged with running it. Heads of the organisation that speaks for the municipalities responsible for education budgets say that some schools may not be able to keep their doors open on account of lack of funds.
The country's provincial government association, UPI, states that 10 cities are at risk of bankruptcy and has raised fears that schools may not be able to reopen after the summer break finishes in mid to late September.
"With these cuts we won't be able to guarantee the opening of the school year," UPI president Giuseppe Castiglione told reporters in Rome.
The system is already reeling from cuts made by the previous Berlusconi government, when 70,000 jobs were scrapped and EUR1.4 billion cut from the education budget. Now subject to another "spending review decree" that aims to axe public spending by EUR26 billion in three years, the spending cuts will also include a major reorganisation of local authorities.
The cities where shuttered schools might be a reality this autumn are mostly in the south, but regions north of Rome are also deeply in the mire. Naples, Palermo in Sicily and Reggio Calabria are among the vulnerable 10 cities. Sicily is in such a bad way that Mario Monti's emergency government might kick out local authorities altogether and rule direct from Rome instead.
Mismanagement, corruption, the financial crunch from bad investments, plummeting tax revenue, high debt levels and rampant overspending have all contributed to the beggarly state of local authority coffers. For years many have cried out for better education and increased spending: Italy spends about 4.5 per cent of its gross domestic product on education, the second-lowest figure among industrialised countries after Slovakia.
During the good times, plenty of money was directed towards vote- gathering projects, but money never found its way to where it was needed in education. Such was the lack of funding that some schools told children they had to bring their own toilet paper with them from home. Now it looks increasingly as though loo paper is not the only thing heading for the U- bend in Italy.