Education in Northern Ireland needs up to £400m more funding a year, according to the minister Peter Weir.
Mr Weir revealed the figure to the education committee at Stormont on Wednesday.
That would represent a 20% increase on the current annual education budget of around £2bn.
Mr Weir also acknowledged to the committee that schools had been wearing “hair shirts” due to considerable pressure on their budgets.
Under questioning from the chair, Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle, Mr Weir said education was facing major resource issues.
Teachers’ pay dispute
“Maybe somewhere in the region of about three to four hundred million at least that would need to be increased in terms of the budget,” he said.
He then went on to break down where the extra annual funding was needed.
He said a business case had gone to the Department of Finance for money to settle the ongoing teachers’ pay dispute and industrial action, but that cash would also have to be provided in future years.
“We’re estimating in terms of pay roughly about £150m may be needed to cover all those aspects in terms of pay, not just the settlement but if we’re looking at potentially what could be settlements for 19, 20, 21.”
On Special Educational Needs (SEN) Mr Weir said: “You may be looking across the board at around about £75m.”
“School budgets, to essentially get it to a point where the head is above water, ideally we’d need at least £50m to £60m on that side of things.”
‘The elephant in the room’
The minister also said that between £40m to £90m a year would also be needed to fund plans to expand pre-school childcare provision to 30 hours a week.
He said that “in real terms” the education budget had reduced by about £230m over the past decade.
“The elephant in the room, consistently, particularly on the big issues that are facing us, is that of resources,” Mr Weir told the committee.
“We could be in very tough territory depending on the level of resources.”
Responding to a question from the Sinn Fein MLA Catherine Kelly, Mr Weir said that he would try to protect funding for services like Sure Start and Nurture Units in schools.
He said he expected the Finance Minister Conor Murphy to announce a budget in late February.
The minister faced questions from a number of members on support for children with SEN.
Mr Lyttle said that support for SEN “is failing to meet the needs of too many children and is also failing to provide teachers with the support that they need to the extent that we have had problems up to and including allegations of inappropriate restraint and seclusion”.
‘Parents don’t believe things are getting better’
SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan urged Mr Weir to address what he called the lack of “simple communication” between the Education Authority (EA) and schools over pupils with SEN.
He referred to the case of a principal who said she had numerous problems in getting help for pupils from the EA.
Mr Weir told the committee that there had been a rapid rise in budgetary pressures to provide support for pupils with SEN in recent years.
“This is not accompanied by a belief from parents that things are necessarily getting better,” he said.
The permanent secretary of the Department of Education Derek Baker, who appeared alongside Mr Weir, said that the EA were “dealing with very, very difficult issues under massive resource constraints”.
However the DUP MLA William Humphrey said there was: “no excuse for the EA just simply refusing to deal with or respond or communicate with principals.”
The Ulster Unionist MLA Robbie Butler questioned Mr Weir about the transfer test, saying it was “grossly unfair” on 10-year-olds.
In response Mr Weir said he was in favour of a single test but it would be difficult to achieve any consensus on academic selection among either politicians or wider society.