The news came as a bolt from the blue: the Supreme Court has recognized the legitimacy of the request of ICI advanced in 2010 by the city of Livorno to schools of the territory managed by religious organizations. This kind of pronouncement by the Supreme Court of Cassation is the first one in Italy. It is a slap to freedom of education. To burden on the budgets of institutions will have repercussions on the boarding costs, at best, increasing the gap between those who can afford a certain type of education and who will be forced to “choose” the public schools, at worst making impossible the very survival of these schools.
A sentence that could involve about one million students in over 13,000 schools throughout Italy; among these, 63% are Catholic. They are mainly the children who attend private schools: there are almost 10 000 kindergartens, 71% of the entire galaxy of the comprehensive schools. And if up to junior high school Catholic institutions are the majority, for the high schools the proportion is reversed and schools of secular matrix prevail.
These are the numbers of the slice of the Italian educational panorama that receives government grants, but largely made up of the fees paid by the same families of the students. And these are the institutions that could be affected by the sentence.
In addition to comprehensive schools, in Italy there are also private schools that do not have this recognition and therefore cannot release certificates or valid diplomas. The only way for the students attending these schools is to do the exams as “an external candidate”. The private school is instead inserted in the national education system and guarantees the equality of rights and duties of the students, the same procedures for the exams, the fulfillment of compulsory education, the qualification to release certificate with legal value. In other words, these schools carry out a public service.
There were 13,652 private schools operating in the country in the school year 2013/2014, 71.8% nursery schools, 11% primary schools, 5% intermediate, and 12.3% upper schools.
“These sentences leave us speechless, because they will force private schools to close”, Don Francesco Macri, president of FIDAE (Federation of Institutes of educational activities), reacts on Radio. “They are schools whose budgets are already deeply in the red, that cost almost nothing, even if ensuring a service to the nation comparable to that of the state schools. So, faced with these sentences, you run out of words”. “In Italy, that is – the president of the FIDAE adds -, we are in the condition that the institutions do not recognize the service of these schools. Unlike what happens in Europe, where private schools are supported in every way – legally, economically, fiscally – in Italy they are constantly penalized, then forced to disappear. And if they disappear, it disappears an important dimension of the organizational and educational structure of the nation”.
These schools have survived so far because supported by the religious – priests or nuns – who work at no charge. “Certainly families pay something – the president of FIDAE adds – So there is a transition of money from families to these schools. It is an educational institution, however, that despite being run by a private, performs a public function in the public interest. It is a concept that those who govern in Italy do not want to understand. Law 62 of 2000 recognized openly and unequivocally the civil service of the private school. Then to equate it to any business – he concludes – is really out of sense, goes beyond the law”.