Fri | Nov 24, 2017

Editorial | St Andrew mauls Reid with logic

Published:Wednesday | August 9, 2017 | 12:00 AM

After his unprovoked assault on school administrators and the resultant mauling by logic he suffered from St Andrew High, Ruel Reid should by now not only have sued for peace, but initiate a genuine dialogue on the economics of education in Jamaica. He would probably discover that there was much he didn't understand.

Ruel Reid is the education minister. Last week, he accused the leaders of some of the island's top high schools of corruption and extortion by dissembling about the Government's contribution to the financing of schools and the administration's policy on how much parents should be asked to pay and the nomenclature to be attached thereto. Stripped to its essentials, what flummoxed Mr Reid was the collision of politics with the reality of economics.

Ostensibly, secondary education was, for a long time, free in Jamaica. That was largely an illusion, for the Government couldn't afford to meet the cost of running schools. Administrators tacked on a range of fees, supposedly to fund specific programmes, from which schools collected around J$2 billion, with a compliance rate of 50 per cent.

 

ELECTION PROMISE

 

The new Government, seeking to fulfil an election promise, last year announced a scrapping of the so-called auxiliary fees. In exchange, it would increase the basic per-capita spend on high-school students by 55 per cent, from J$11,500 to between J$17,000 and J$19,000. But in a curious concession to worried principals, schools would still be allowed to charge auxiliary fees, once they didn't call them that, and made clear that the 'contribution' was voluntary. Oh, and if schools wanted to charge above a benchmark amount, they were to get approval from Mr Reid's ministry.

Apparently, the education minister's indecorous remarks last week, including his threats to "go after" presumably errant schools, had something to do with his interpretation of how they were executing his policies. Embarrassingly for Mr Reid, but fortunately for the rest of the society largely ignorant on the economics of high-school education, St Andrew High, one of those targeted by the minister, responded with a cogent lecture on the subject, referencing its own situation.

This all-girl school of 1,550 students will, at J$17,000 per head, receive a subvention of J$26.35 million for the 2017-18 academic year that starts in September. The school, however, projects that it will cost approximately J$140.6 million, or roughly J$67,000 per student, to run the institution. There are, however, some items and functions, such as the cost of external exams and the Government's payment for part-time teachers, amounting to $36.4 million, which are not the responsibility of the school, and therefore subtracted from the amount.

Nonetheless, the school will still have a budget of more than $104 million which, after applying the government subvention, will leave a shortfall of $50,000 per child. St Andrew intends to largely close most of this gap by asking parents for $39,500 per student, of which $29,000, or 74 per cent, is for the provision of services considered critical to the daily functioning of the school. The other big items in the request are $5,000 for a fund to maintain the physical infrastructure and $3,000 in dues for the parent-teacher association.

Schools are not supposed to turn away students whose parents can't pay, which has always been declared government policy, though not always adhered by some schools. That is worthy of discussion. But the wider issue to be debated is whether the Government can afford to fund high-school education to the standard required "to be successful prepared for life in the 21st Century" - which St Andrew says is its objective. That discussion would be a better use of Mr Reid's time than the unwarranted spewing of insults.