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Public spending on education falls for the first time in 30 years

As school year starts, government admits it does not know how many teachers will be available

Teachers and labor unions have described spending cuts being applied in the regions as "the biggest attack on education" in Spain's post-Transition history.

Figures released by the Ministry of Education on Thursday show total public spending on education has fallen for the first time in 30 years. The 2010 education bill was estimated at 53.946 billion euros, a figure that was later revised to 52.741 billion euros. This year, the estimate is 52.254 billion euros, a drop over two years of 1.5 percent.

The drop in spending coincides with a hike of 165,154 pupils this year. This week and early next 7.92 million children are to start the new academic year, but the ministry admits it does not know how many teachers will be available to school them "given the current situation."

Mass protests in Madrid on Thursday were aimed at regional premier Esperanza Aguirre's plan to raise contact hours from 18 to 20 to save some ¤80 million by not using substitute teachers.