Principals need not fret over funding
The editorial 'Think carefully on auxiliary fees' and an article, 'Rethink school freeness mentality' by Ronald Thwaites, opposition spokesman on education, in yesterday's edition of The Gleaner, raise several criticisms about Government's proposal to remove auxiliary fees from secondary education.
A summary of the issues raised include:
• The Government should pay the tuition fees for only needy students as determined by a means test.
• The additional resources should be allocated to high schools with most PATH students and those with weak GSAT entry standards.
• Schools will be placed in a worse financial position and left short of critical resources.
• The need to consult widely before implementing the plan.
• Government should be wary of rigidities and absolutes.
The first allegation - promoting freeness mentality - misses the intent of the policy decision, which is to ensure that all high-school students from whatever socio-economic background have a tuition-paid place in school. He or she is sure of a place without his/her parent coming under pressure to pay tuition fees.
Importantly, the new policy is making a distinction between 'auxiliary fees' and 'contributions'. Parents will continue to have the opportunity to contribute freely towards projects agreed on between school administrators and PTAs. In addition, parents will continue to purchase essential learning material and incur other education-related charges. Therefore, the criticism about promoting freeness is not grounded in reality.
The allocation of funds under the new policy will take into account the socio-economic profile of the students attending a school, their learning abilities, and the infrastructural needs of the school. The ministry has developed a funding formula that will reflect these realities on the ground in order to achieve equity. This approach will address The Gleaner's call for a means test and the Opposition's desire to allocate funds to the most needful students and the weakest schools.
Based on the funding formula, school administrators will not be placed embarrassingly in a worse financial position and left short of critical resources. The funding formula has the following features:
• Through more equitable funding, schools will be able to allocate the staffing and resources required to meet the needs of the students they serve.
• The allocation of budget for a school for each academic year should reflect the student enrolment for that particular year and any changes to the school population. As the conditions/situation of students change, the budget allocated for staffing in that school must change within an adequate period.
• However, schools will not be permitted to enrol more than the number of places permitted by the ministry.
• Funding will reflect the nature of the plant and site, the curriculum offered, needy students, as well as the health and safety of students and staff.
In addition, the ministry is reviewing the payment period for subventions to schools to ensure the ironing out of dips in cash flow. Furthermore, the ministry will be directing other resources to schools to effect repair and maintenance. Against this background, principal Keven Jones and Patricia Bailey need not worry about being left short of resources.
As part of the implementation plan, Education Minister Ruel Reid and his team will meet with all principals and bursars of secondary schools next week Friday.