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Lawmakers to consider plight of small private schools in banning 'no-payment no-exam' policy

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
Lawmakers to consider plight of small private schools in banning 'no-payment no-exam' policy
Parents check the sections of their children on the lists posted at the Talon Elementary School in Las Piñas City.
Russell Palma

MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers pushing to ban the "no permit, no exam" policy in basic education agreed on Tuesday to look into small private schools on the brink of closure due to millions in unsettled payments from students.

The House committee on basic education and culture agreed to take into consideration small private schools that rely on the timely payment of tuition fees to fund their operational expenses during the school year.

This was after a representative from the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations of the Philippines (COCOPEA) expressed their reservations with the bill, citing several private schools, including one in Bulacan, that have allegedly recorded millions in unpaid fees. 

"We want for parents to have accountability (over their) children, but at the same time, give the privilege of exams to those who deserve it due to justifiable reasons," COCOPEA Managing Director Joseph Estrada told the panel.

Rep. Marissa Magsino (OFW Partylist) said that instead of passing the burden to students, the government should impose stiff penalties for schools that take in students without clearance of transfer credentials.

“But to deprive students of taking an exam, it's not right and puts the burden on students. Schools have viability, sustainability issues, and we understand that, but that means they have to have cooperation,” Magsino added.

Despite a requirement for schools to withhold transfer credentials from students with outstanding balances, Estrada said that Department of Education (DepEd) has yet to act on schools’ complaints about transferees with unpaid bills.

Small private schools already reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic might have to retrench or close altogether if students with unpaid fees are allowed to graduate or transfer to another school, Estrada said.

The DepEd has recorded the closure of 425 private elementary and high schools nationwide since 2020, affecting 20,838 students.

Of the more than 800 schools that closed during the peak of the health crisis, only around half have reopened.

Not students’ fault 

While lawmakers agreed to add provisions requiring students to present justifiable reasons, Rep. Roman Romulo (Pasig City), who chairs the committee, said that the measure should prioritize learners’ well-being above all.

“Imagine if we just came from the COVID-19 pandemic and students will study for an exam without knowing if they can pay for their tuition. We’re just aiding them with regard to their mental torture,” Romulo added.

Giving students at least a year to pay their outstanding balance may also allow families to ask for financial assistance from their local government or from DepEd, the lawmaker added.

“The only thing we're asking here is that we free the child or student from the mental or emotional torture of asking, ‘Can I take the exam?’ I think that is the best way to give our students a chance to move forward. After all, It is not their fault,” Romulo said.

Rep. Raoul Manuel (Kabataan partylist) said that the "no-permit, no-exam" policy exacts a mental toll on students who are pressured to secure a promissory note just to sit their final exams.

Manuel authored a similar bill for university and college students which unanimously passed third and final reading in 2022.

The House panel will be consolidating five bills related to the "no-permit, no exam" policy to expand its coverage to include students in basic and technical vocational education. 

While DepEd Order No. 15, s. 2010 already requires schools to allow students with unpaid fees to sit their final exams, Estrada said that the order does not cover other exams scheduled at different points of the school year.

Gov’t subsidies for private schools

To help small private schools cope with the late payment of fees, Romulo said that a bill seeking to provide elementary students with government-subsidized private education could keep them afloat. 

DepEd currently allows only high school students to apply for subsidies in the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (GASTPE) program.

Similarly, the president of the Federation of Associations of Private School Administrators Eleazardo Kasilag said that Congress should step in to aid small private schools that have to pay its own utility bills yet allow students with unpaid fees to graduate for various reasons.

“Owners of small private schools are at a loss because there is no GASTPE for preschool and elementary. That’s our problem, and that’s the problem of most private schools that close down,” Kasilag said. 

GASTPE, which is the government's biggest scholarship program for private school students, came under fire from the Commission on Audit in 2018 after it reportedly fell short of its target beneficiaries. Citing DepEd’s poor implementation of the program, lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc filed a resolution in 2022 to probe its use of funds. 

The resolution also called attention to small and medium-sized private schools that have been “practically sidelined or marginalized” from the program due to stringent and costly requirements in the application process. 

DEPED

GASTPE

PRIVATE SCHOOLS

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