Vouchers for private schools

MINI CRITIQUE - Isagani Cruz (The Philippine Star) - January 27, 2016 - 9:00am

Are Grade 10 private school completers who do not receive any kind of financial support from the government entitled to vouchers?

The short answer is: it depends.

Here is a really long answer:

According to the Constitution, free basic education is a right. Article 14, Section 2(2) says that the State shall “establish and maintain a system of free public education in the elementary and high school levels.”

Since it is a right, citizens may waive it. (For example, when accused of a crime, a person has the right to remain silent, but if s/he wants to, s/he can always talk.)

Some parents, whether justified or not, feel that private schools are better than public schools. (This might be generally true, but it is certainly not particularly true of public schools today like the University of the Philippines, Philippine Science High School, Philippine High School for the Arts, Cavite National Science High School, or Iloilo National High School, which are much better than most private schools. In the past, in fact, Araullo, Arellano, Mapa, and Torres lorded it over private high schools.)

These parents pay their own money to send their children to private schools. Most private schools charge a lot more than the voucher amount that the government is going to give public school students who choose to move to them.

The Constitution also says, in Article 14, Section 2 (3), that the State shall “establish and maintain a system of scholarship grants, student loan programs, subsidies, and other incentives which shall be available to deserving students in both public and private schools, especially to the underprivileged.” This provision allows the Department of Education (DepEd) to offer vouchers to private school students who are not already beneficiaries of the ESC.

The key phrase in the constitutional provision, however, is “especially to the underprivileged.” DepEd, therefore, has not made a blanket commitment that all private school students will get vouchers. Instead, given its limited budget, DepEd wants to prioritize the underprivileged.

This qualification is found in DepEd Order No. 46, series of 2015: “Non-ESC Grade 10 completers from Private Junior High Schools who wish to avail of vouchers shall be required to apply for vouchers subject to an assessment of their socioeconomic status and, if deemed qualified, shall also receive 80 percent of the full voucher value.”

Note the difference between private school students who are in the ESC program and those who are not. Those who are in the ESC program, just like all public school students, are automatically entitled to vouchers (even if the voucher amount is zero if they go to a public high school). Those private school students who are not in the ESC program have to apply for the vouchers. In other words, they have to prove that they need the money to continue their basic education.

I mentioned the limited budget of DepEd. The amount allocated for the voucher program is not enough to cover all the roughly 1.4 million students currently in Grade 10. Even allowing for drop-outs or push-outs, there will still be quite a number of students going into Grade 11.

The first principle, which I will not tire of repeating, is that every Grade 10 public school student has the sole choice of which public or private Senior High School to go to. Now, if the more than a million public school students all decide to go to private schools, they should all be entitled to vouchers (whether full or partial). There is not enough money to cover that possibility.

Fortunately for DepEd and the government, there are not enough private high schools to take in all 1.4 million students. In fact, after it listed all the private high schools that will open Grade 11 in June and added up how many slots these schools said they can offer to public school students, DepEd discovered that only 40 percent of public school students can actually move to private schools.

Since public school students that stay in public schools will not need extra subsidies (or if they went to LUCs or SUCs, they would need only 50 percent of the voucher amount), then DepEd is really looking at spending only for just over half a million public school students moving to private schools.

This works out nicely to a round figure of 60 percent of public school students staying in their own schools and 40 percent moving elsewhere.

This means that DepEd has to ensure that its own schools can accommodate the 60 percent. And, yes, fortunately, DepEd has enough classrooms, teachers, and textbooks to take them all in and not spend for vouchers for them.

As of last count, by June, there will be 5,902 public Senior High Schools. There will be 4,328 private Senior High Schools. The list of all these schools is on the DepEd website (search for “List of Senior High Schools”).

By 2018, with enough time to build classrooms and hire teachers, DepEd should be able to accommodate 100 percent of public school Grade 10 completers in its own Senior High Schools. This means that the voucher system should cease to exist by June of 2018.

For the academic years 2016-17 and 2017-18, how much is one voucher worth? The short answer again is: it depends. (To be continued)

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