Editorial | Allocate CDF, more CHASE money to education
The government, Ruel Reid told teachers last week, had assumed responsibility for educating, for free, children between ages three to 18 "and is serious about the implementation of this policy".
It's an objective to which this newspaper is not opposed. But delivering on it, as Mr Reid, the education minister, has been discovering, won't be easy. Quality education is not cheap, and fiscally, Jamaica is not in great shape.
It is in that context that we have urged Mr Reid to formulate a new narrative around the policy, including serious dialogue with parents on their obligation to help, at least, over the medium term to finance their children's education. A realistic timetable for the policy's implementation should also be on the agenda.
In the event that full state funding of an
education system worthy of a 21st-century economy will require a substantial reallocation of public resources, a debate on it must be
seriously engaged. We, however, have a few ideas on where the Government can begin to look for additional resources to shore up spending on secondary education, the immediate area of focus.
Last year, the Government increased per capita subventions to high schools by between 48 per cent and 65 per cent. Schools, on average, now receive J$17,000 per child, as against J$11,500 before. That is good. But there is an issue.
The move was initially framed as the abolition of 'auxiliary fees', which schools imposed to cover the shortfall in government support. A policy clarification then encouraged parents to pay, but stressed that this was "non-mandatory contributions". Mr Reid has had an issue with how some schools implement the policy. Last week, he was forced to apologise for calling several of them corrupt and extortionary.
The increases notwithstanding, the subventions are insufficient to provide a decent quality of education at Jamaica's high schools. For instance, with regard to non-reimbursable expenses, the all-girls St Andrew High School estimates that it takes around J$67,000 per student, or nearly three times the government grant, to maintain a child at the institution. In other words, after the government allocation of J$17,000, that school will have a shortfall of J$50,000 per student, of which parents have been asked to cover 79 per cent. Such deficits are replicated across the system.
Raid pork larder
For the new school year, Mr Reid says the Government will provide J$7.2 billion in grants to schools. That's an increase of J$1.9 billion or 36 per cent over 2016-17 - a figure that could have been covered by reallocating to education the J$1.3-billion Constituency Development Fund, a pork larder members of parliament can raid, to the tune of J$20 million each, in the promotion of patronage.
The administration should also consider changing the priority for disbursing money collected by the CHASE (Culture, Health, Art, Sports, Education) Fund in levies on lotteries and gaming machines. By law, the largest chunk, 40 per cent, of those funds goes to sports. Education gets 25 per cent, health 20 per cent, and arts and culture 15 per cent.
In 2014-15, the latest period for which the agency's accounts are posted, $589 million was allocated to sporting bodies and for sporting activities. Sport is important and has brought glory to Jamaica, but given the central role of education, it may be worthwhile to flip these allocations, which can happen by ministerial order. Further, when, and if, casino gambling comes on stream, at least 60 per cent of its taxes should, for the first decade, be deployed to education.