Mon | Sep 24, 2018

Removing barriers to education

Published:Tuesday | May 17, 2016 | 12:04 AM
Education and Information Minister Ruel Reid

Senator Ruel Reid, minister of education, youth and information, on the removal of auxiliary fees:

Our philosophy is that public education should be properly funded by government while encouraging stakeholders to make voluntary contributions. The idea of mandatory fees for access to public education must be frowned on.

We can't have PAYE, Education Tax, HEART Tax, GCT, and still have mandatory school fees. Schools should not be forced to charge fees for services that government should be providing. Education is just too important for there to be any barriers to access.

Nothing is free. Someone has to pay. All parents are already funding aspects of students' education in preparing them for school, lunch, books, bus fare and other school items. Therefore, public education should be funded by taxes instead of applying taxes/fees at the point of access. I have been travelling extensively recently to look at public school systems abroad and, consistently, there are no fees for public schools.

Status of fees in schools

The facts concerning the payment of auxiliary fees indicate that the system is broken in several respects:

• 88 per cent of all high schools charge an average auxiliary fee of $5,000. If these schools were to get an additional $7,500 per student, there would be no need for auxiliary fees in the real sense.

• Only about 20 schools charge between $8,000 and $ 47,000.

• Here is the problem: the compliance rate for the payment of auxiliary fees is 49 per cent, and this has been on the decline since 2011.

• A significant portion of the auxiliary fees currently goes towards consumables, for example, physical education gear, overalls and coats, and support materials. Preferably, students should be required to purchase these directly for themselves [even if it means the school arranges for bulk buying] and sold through the parent-teacher association (PTA). Schools should move away from retail activities, including running tuck shops/canteens, as we run the risk of serious management and accountability issues for principals and boards. We must strive to stick to our core business of teaching and learning.

Objectives of new tuition fee policy

• Against this background, a major objective of the new tuition free policy is to achieve transparency and efficiency in the use of funds collected from the State or parents.

• Schools must make a distinction between tuition 'fees' and 'contributions' by parents.

• The guiding principle of the new tuition fee policy is to ensure an equitable distribution of resources to all schools. In this regard, the ministry will work out with each school the level of resources required to carry out its core instructional function and provide the resources accordingly - between $ 11,500 and $ 35,000 per capita.

• I know that many church schools and trust schools have high compliance rates and you should continue to receive those contributions, but under the heading 'school development' or 'parents contributions' and not mandatory auxiliary fees.

Timely payment of subventions

Tranches will be paid as follows:

• First payment - Second week of June in each year

• Second payment - Second week of September in each year

• Third payment - Second week in December of each year

• Fourth payment - second week in April each year

Here are some answers to common questions:

Will the ministry provide my school with all the funds normally collected from auxiliary fees in order to effectively run the school?

The ministry will ensure that the school is adequately funded based on the cost to operate the school taking into consideration the core of education that the ministry is responsible for. From the analysis done of auxiliary fees, the schools do not always use all of the funds collected to run the schools. Some go towards providing personal items for students or to initiate or complete building projects.

If my current auxiliary fee inflow is already above the maximum tuition fee that the ministry is proposing, how do I make-up the shortfall?

The auxiliary fee needs to be broken down to determine what portion goes towards running the school and the portion that goes to students directly.

Is the new tuition fee policy banning the collection of funds from parents?

The tuition fee policy is not banning the collection of funds from parents. As a matter of fact, parents are being encouraged to support their schools through the PTA. This, however, should be accommodated differently through contributions directly as school development fund contributions.

Under the new policy for what can schools charge parents?

Schools, through discussion with parents can ask parents to contribute to sports projects, extra-curricula activities, special initiatives such as school enhancement and the teaching of areas that may fall outside of the curriculum.

Will the ministry set limits on how much schools can charge parents or ask them to contribute?

The ministry will approve how much the schools can ask parents to contribute on an individual basis after discussion and careful consideration.

If auxiliary fees are abolished, what cushion will schools have when emergency needs arise or subventions arrive late?

The ministry will ensure that the subvention arrives on time. In cases of emergency, the ministry will provide support as is always the case.

With no auxiliary fees, how will schools fund their development plans?

The schools can still ask parents to contribute to their development plans but through parents' contributions and not auxiliary fees.

Is the school expected to make up the shortfall in the subvention in order to provide lunch to PATH beneficiaries for five days? Where will this money come from?

A component of the tuition fees to be provided will go towards supporting meals for the additional two days for students on PATH. We will be considering providing core ingredients directly as we seek both private sector and diaspora support.