EDITORIAL — Squeezing private schools

The Philippine Star

Before Congress churns out yet another law that cannot be enforced or wreaks havoc because of lack of proper consultations, the two chambers should listen to the voices of those targeted by the proposed legislation.

Owners of private educational institutions are appealing to Congress to reconsider a measure intending to ban schools from requiring students to settle tuition and other fees before being allowed to take examinations.

Last month, the Catholic Educational Association in the Philippines, which has 1,500 member schools nationwide, pointed out that banning the “no permit, no exam” policy could lead to the loss of a steady cash flow needed for the salaries of teachers and other school personnel, the continuing upgrade of equipment and facilities, maintenance and other operating expenses.

A similar appeal was made last week by the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations, which pointed out that private schools are businesses that rely on earnings to survive and provide quality services. COCOPEA noted that private schools are just starting to recover from the devastation from the COVID-19 lockdowns.

Before the pandemic, the country had about 14,000 private educational institutions. Enrollment plummeted during the pandemic as parents who lost their jobs or livelihoods transferred their children to public schools where tuition is free, or else stopped sending their children to school altogether.

As of August last year, at least 860 private schools had shut down, affecting an estimated 60,000 students and 4,500 teachers. Over 700 of the shuttered schools, or nearly 85 percent, were run by Catholic institutions.

Parents who want free education for their children can go to public schools, where tuition is free from kindergarten to college. Unfortunately, studies have shown that free education has not translated into quality education, except in a handful of state-run schools where competition to enter is tough. Instead a 2022 World Bank report showed that the country has a learning poverty rate of 91 percent and learning deprivation rate of 90.4 percent – among the highest in Southeast Asia.

Unlike the government, which can afford to incur P13.75 trillion in debt as of end-February this year, private schools have a limited credit line and can fold up in case of insolvency, as we saw last year in the case of the Colegio de San Lorenzo in Quezon City. Many lawmakers can afford to send their children to expensive schools abroad; the average Filipino family sees local private schools as an alternative.

Instead of curtailing private enterprise, lawmakers should find ways of upgrading the quality of public education. Free shouldn’t mean simply that you don’t pay; it should also mean that education need not be substandard.

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