Claiming the vouchers

MINI CRITIQUE - Isagani Cruz (The Philippine Star) - February 3, 2016 - 9:00am

Last Jan. 13, the Department of Education (DepEd) issued a clarification on the Senior High School (SHS) Voucher Program. Among the important instructions in DepEd Order No. 1, series of 2016, is yet another reminder to students, parents, and (yes!) DepEd officials that the program “will empower students with the choice to pursue their desired senior high school education.” It cannot be overemphasized that no one can tell students where to go for their SHS.

The new DepEd Order adds an important reminder to DepEd officials: “All DepEd units are prohibited from expressing any bias toward any particular SHS provider.” This seems to be a reaction to reports that some DepEd officials are either actively encouraging Grade 10 students to enroll in particular private schools or discouraging them from going to particular private schools. (You can guess at the motivation of these officials in our country that has just been humiliated internationally with a drastic drop in the Global Corruption Index.)

Anyway, back to the way the voucher program operates.

There is a misconception that the vouchers that students entering SHS will get are pieces of paper. In our hypothetical examples of Maria and Juan going to private schools for Grade 11 this coming June, the misconception is that they will both get paper vouchers that they will then hand over to the schools. This is not the case at all.

What will happen is this. (To make the example simpler, let us first assume that Maria and Juan are going to the same private SHS.)

First, the private school will have itself listed in an online information management system called the Senior High School Voucher Management System (SHS-VMS). Of course, only schools that have been granted permits to offer SHS can be listed.

Maria and Juan will go to the private school and register as incoming students of Grade 11. They could have done this late last year during early registration. They can still do it now.

When Maria and Juan actually start studying in the school, the school will list their names in the SHS-VMS. (Of course, there are several data items that need to be uploaded. There are also, despite digitalization, some pieces of paper to be filled in.)

In the first semester of the academic year, DepEd will send – electronically – the first half of the voucher amount per student to the school. The second and last installment will be sent in the second semester.

It is that simple. The school does all the work of enrolling the students and claiming the voucher amounts.

Now, how much is a voucher worth?

It all depends on where the private school is located.

If the school is in the National Capital Region (NCR), the full value is P22,500 per student per year. Students that are already ESC beneficiaries (as I explained in a previous column) will be assigned only 80 percent of that value (or P18,000). Students going to SUCs or LUCs (again, as I explained previously) will be assigned only 50 percent of that value (or P11,250).

Schools in highly urbanized cities outside NCR will get a full value of P20,000 per student. (You can compute for the corresponding 80 percent and 50 percent).

Schools in places that are not highly urbanized will get a full value of P17,500 per student. (Again, you can compute for the lower percentages.)

What is a highly urbanized city (HUC)? According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), an HUC has at least 200,000 inhabitants (as certified by the National Statistics Office) and earns at least P50 million a year.

According to the PSA, there are 33 HUCs as of the end of 2015: Angeles, Bacolod, Baguio, Butuan, Cagayan de Oro, Caloocan, Cebu, Davao, General Santos, Iligan, Iloilo, Lapu-Lapu, Las Piñas, Lucena, Makati, Malabon, Mandaluyong, Mandaue, Manila, Marikina, Muntinlupa, Navotas, Olongapo, Parañaque, Pasay, Pasig, Puerto Princesa, Quezon City, San Juan, Tacloban, Taguig, Valenzuela, and Zamboanga. (Notice that all of the cities in Metro Manila are also HUCs. These cities are classified as being in NCR rather than belonging to the category of the HUCs.)

Note that the voucher amount does not depend on where the student is from. If Maria lives in, say, San Pedro, Laguna (not an HUC), but studies in relatively nearby Las Piñas, her private school will get the full P22,500 (if it does not get ESC support). On the other hand, if Juan (who comes from an HUC school that does not get any ESC support) goes to a private school in Quezon City that already gets ESC support, the school will get only 80 percent of the full voucher value (that is, only P18,000).

Since there are over hundreds of thousands of Grade 11 students going to private schools, LUCs, or SUCs, how can the government figure out all these combinations? Human beings cannot, but computers can. That is why DepEd (with the help of FAPE-PEAC) has set up a computerized information system.

This concludes my series on the voucher program. If you have any questions, you may direct them to DepEd.

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