Reid lashes Thwaites, says predecessor 'sounds like a broken record'
Education Minister Ruel Reid says his opposition counterpart, Ronald Thwaites, "sounds like a broken record" for accusing the Andrew Holness-led administration of having a misplaced priority in pursuing the removal of auxiliary fees at the expense of areas such as early childhood education.
The People's National Party spokesman led a three-member parliamentary team in a press conference yesterday that continued the opposition's argument that the policy governing the removal of the auxiliary fees from the secondary level was "confusing".
Noting that "a great deal" of high school costs are linked to remedial work, Thwaites said, "It remains an irony that while additional funds are being found to fulfil a campaign promise for so-called free education, which is not free, all of the primary schools are, in fact, asking for a contribution from parents."
But Reid said he was "totally dismissing" the claims of his predecessor, who, he says, "sounds like a broken record because in his time, he certainly never did any such thing".
"I have outlined a zero to 29 strategy. Early childhood begins at zero not at four," he told The Gleaner.
"We have indicated we are going to be launching in September an early stimulation programme for all our children so that we can monitor them from birth. The issue he speaks of, you can't solve the problem at age four. The deficit would have to be identified much earlier, and zero to three is when there is 85 per cent of brain development - and that was not a strategy he had pursued."
Thwaites has told The Gleaner that during his January 2012 - February 2016 tenure, the ministry's budget for the early childhood sector moved from in the low single digits to about 12 per cent.
During his tenure, Thwaites repeatedly argued that the first two levels of the education system needed greater attention if problems in the more advanced levels are to be reduced.
This is the latest verbal clash between Thwaites and Reid.
Last month, Reid said upon taking office in March, he "discovered" that Thwaites "left a bill for $182 million that he never paid the University of the West Indies".
Thwaites, noting that the bill was for the ministry's technocrats to address, responded that "he (Reid) knows it's not true and it demeans my reputation, and then he sits down and talks about this great committee (on values and attitudes) and how he's my good friend and how we are both Christians together".
Regarding the allegation that primary schools are charging fees, Reid said an investigation was continuing into that matter.
The 2016-2017 Budget approved by Parliament shows an allocation of $1.4 billion to fund the operations of 1,877 recognised basic schools, less than the $1.5 billion for the previous year.
Infant schools have been allocated $1.2 billion, just over the $1 billion budgeted in the previous year.