The issue of how funding secondary education and what should be the expected lines of demarcation between schools (operations) and the Ministry of Education (policy) is again being debated. In my opinion, there can be no doubt that parents should be mandated to contribute to the cost of their children’s education. And, with respect to the issue of how schools use funds they raise, I believe there should be transparency.
Education Minister Senator Ruel Reid insists that the Government is contributing “well in excess of $50,000 per student” to high schools, but includes in that $50,000 staff costs, security and utilities. Whether one uses the figure of $50,000 or the $19,500, which does not include staff costs, and which was introduced in 2016/17 representing an increase of 65 per cent on the previous amount of $11,500, the fact is that the funding model for secondary schools is not taking sufficiently into account the lopsided and inequitable nature of the current arrangement, and the matter warrants resolution.
The education minister has found himself with some pushback from operators of publicly funded church schools who seem to be of the view that the ministry should not have a say concerning how they spend funds that they raise for themselves. Consistent with my own views on equity, I side with the minister to a great extent.
Schools should be required to open their books — without fear of funds being taken away — to allow the ministry to assess how much they should be given to meet their shortfall. In other words, the opening of the books to make full disclosure to the ministry is predicated on the establishment of a new funding model for secondary schools that is funding secondary education. Under this model, an amount will be agreed as the baseline required to enable each school to provide high-quality education.
Funding secondary education and using that figure, which is somewhere in the region of $65,000 per student, per year, schools would make up their budgets and would show in those budgets the amounts they plan to raise from every source, and thus the contribution of the ministry would be to meet the shortfall. The net result is that some schools would receive a higher per student subvention than others. Thus the applicable principle of equity would be: “To each according to need”. The workability of this model rests, among other things, on transparency.
In order for this model to be maximally effective the 55 per cent of schools that are currently classified as under-performing, and even some which are classified as performing satisfactorily, would need to undergo major management overhaul and capacity-building in a context of the creation of new strategic plans. This would be necessary as many schools do not possess the programmes or leadership that could put to optimal use a significant increase in their funding.
Examples of support some school receive
Someone sent me a Loop news report recently which stated that one famous school will have a newly designed entrance, funded by the old boys’ association to the tune of $20 million. The truth is that most high-performing and better-performing schools have to their advantage active parent-teacher associations/home-school associations and past students’ associations which provide generous support to them.
Many of these schools have staff positions that are funded exclusively by these entities. At one school five of the 78 teachers on staff are paid by the past students’ associations. At another school it is four of about the same 70+. In addition, these past students’ associations and parent-teacher associations/home-school associations construct new classrooms and resource centres, fund technology programmes and provide incentives to top up teachers’ salaries. The alumni of some schools have been known to also provide scholarships and build new learning and sporting facilities.
Two critically important things all these highly supported schools have in common in funding secondary education are high parental contribution/auxiliary fees and experience high compliance rates. But the schools which do not have those levels of support described above are not to be faulted, even as their principals and boards work to mobilize support. It is instructive though that these schools are the ones that have had low compliance rates with auxiliary fees and are now heavily dependent of the Government’s input.
The system is really inequitable and I would urge Minister Reid to bring the stakeholders to the table with a view to formulating a policy that addresses the imbalance in how secondary schools are supported. In constructing a new model of funding the overarching principle and ultimate goal will be to bring every school up to the highest levels possible, even if not to the same level. This will mean that not all schools will get the same $19,500, or the over $50,000 if we count staff costs, security and utilities.
In order to prevent the perpetuation of the inequity there will have to be transparency. Schools will need to open their books. There should be no adverse penalty for opening books. In other words, no school should suffer the loss of funds they have raised or be barred from accessing non-governmental resources, but the policy must involve a differentiation in the amount schools receive from the public purse. The amount that each school, in each category, receives (assuming that a system of classification is devised) will be dependent on a number of variables, chief of which should be the level of support they are able to garner through their own efforts or that of their networks of support.
Thus, the time has come for Government to boldly and openly affirm that parents have a key role to play in their children’s education, in funding secondary education, and making a payment as a contribution to that cost should not be seen as detrimental.
Going Further to a Funding Secondary Education Solution
In the same way the Government proposes to implement a National Health Insurance Scheme it also needs to make a number of macro changes in how education is funded. One place at which the Government may start is to reverse the practice of placing the revenue collected as education tax in the consolidated fund, and instead devote every dime to the cause of education.
In addition, the Government should set aside a portion of the Education Tax for investment in the National Education Trust (NET) that will go towards funding secondary education. The trust should be buttressed by a dedicated percentage of the billions of dollars in dormant bank accounts. The resources of the NET should not only be used to build and upgrade schools but help to reduce the inequities in how schools are now funded.
The trust should also be used to support the transformation of the education system through targeted interventions, using a cyclical logical model that moves from inspection and problem identification to strategic (school improvement) planning, then resource-supported implementation, continuous monitoring, performance evaluation, and back to inspection.
Dr Canute Thompson is head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning, lecturer in the School of Education, and co-founder and chief consultant for the Caribbean Leadership Re-Imagination Initiative, at The University of the West Indies, Mona. He is also author of three books and several articles on leadership. Send comments to the Observer or [email protected].