Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Editorial | Vertigo from auxiliary fee twirl

Published:Thursday | July 28, 2016 | 7:00 AM

It feels almost like a bad case of vertigo, just attempting to follow the Government's statements on auxiliary fees for high schools. We can imagine what it's like for principals who not only have to make sense of the policy, but to actually implement it. But we feel worse for Ruel Reid, the education minister, who not only has to conjure the various iterations of the policy, but to believe them.

The last place we geo-positioned this matter in its Bolt-like sprint is the statement in Parliament on Tuesday by Prime Minister Andrew Holness that each high school is now entitled to a 65 per cent increase on the previous J$11,500 per student, in the per capita allocation for operating the institutions.

"The commitment given today in this Parliament, by this prime minister ... is a per capita grant to schools of $19,000 per student," said Mr Holness.

However, that emphatic declaration by Mr Holness seems at odds with one issued the same day from the Office of the Prime Minister, but headed as though it was from the education ministry, which said the allocation would be "to a maximum of JMD$19,000 per student and therefore will provide additional support in some schools".

Although no name was assigned to the statement, the tone and authority of the statement suggested that it was issued on behalf of Mr Holness. Speaking of the government's plan to make the right to secondary education explicit in law, it said: "I have directed the minister of education, youth and information to examine the existing legislation with a view to make it illegal for any child to be denied a 'right' to secondary education."

The larger point here is that while Mr Reid may be suffering worse from this disorientation, the prime minister, it appears, is not unaffected by this rapid policy see-saw. Yet, it need not have happened.

Astonishingly, the removal of auxiliary fees from high schools, or the promise to do so, is a rare give-back that seems not to have agitated Jamaicans, including those who paid. Nonetheless, it was a campaign promise of Mr Holness' Jamaica Labour Party, which his administration seemingly feels compelled to implement in some fashion, no matter how peculiar.

 

ALLOCATION SHORTFALL

 

Under the old system, while tuition at the secondary level was 'free' schools tacked on various fees to help cover the shortfall in the government allocation. They raised something over J$2 billion a year, but that represented a compliance rate, as Mr Reid put it shortly after he was made education minister, "a measly 49 per cent".

The Government now says that it is increasing its allocation to secondary schools from J$2.6 billion to J$5.3 billion.

But even at this, most high school principals have insisted that they still will not have enough money to fund their institutions and have resisted the attempt to ban auxiliary fees. Mr Reid huffed but relented, with the firm stipulation that it must not be called auxiliary fees. A handle such a 'contributions' would do. And no child could be turned out of school for not paying - which was always the case.

In-between, several other puff-chested declarations have come from the minister, including the one that schools could charge more than the ministry's benchmark of J$20,000 if they get permission. Several schools now charge much more.

Perhaps the Government should give the auxiliary fee policy a rest while it regains its balance and think the thing through properly with stakeholders.