DepEd’s voucher program faces budget cut
Janvic Mateo (The Philippine Star) - September 12, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines —  The number of new beneficiaries of the government’s senior high school voucher program may be reduced next year if Congress fails to increase the funding allocated by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

From the original P52-billion proposal of the Department of Education (DepEd), the DBM recommended only P31.18 billion for the Government Assistance and Subsidies (GAS) program, which covers funding for financial assistance to private school students such as the senior high school voucher program.

The proposed P31.18-billion GAS funding is lower than the P32.12 billion allotted for the program this year.

Acceptance of new beneficiaries affected

While there may be enough to provide subsidy to existing beneficiaries of the program, Education Undersecretary Annalyn Sevilla said acceptance of new beneficiaries may be affected if the budget is not restored to the present level.

“We will have to continue funding for incoming Grade 12 voucher recipients and Education Service Contracting (ESC) grantees, but we need to calibrate the number of new voucher beneficiaries, depending on the funding level we will get in the 2020 General Appropriations Act,” Sevilla said.

“We are still asking for additional P4 billion for the Voucher Program for 2020 to continue accepting new voucher students for Grades 11,” she added.

Previously called the Government Assistance for Students and Teachers in Private Education, GAS covers all subsidy programs for students and teachers, including the ESC for junior high school, the voucher program for senior high school and the recently launched voucher program for public senior high school students enrolled in the technical-vocational-livelihood track.

The financial subsidy, according to the DepEd, aims to make private education a viable option for learners in fulfilment of the agency’s mandate to make basic education accessible to all.

Sevilla said they are working with the DBM, Senate and the House of Representatives to secure enough funding for the program.

“We cannot stop the voucher program at this time because we still have a lot of facilities in public schools to finish and a law that we have to follow,” she said in Filipino, referring to Republic Act 10533 or the Basic Education Reform Law that specifically mandated the implementation of the voucher program.

“But if the budget will be reduced and we still have upcoming payables (to existing beneficiaries), then we have to control the number of new beneficiaries who would avail of the program,” she added.

Private schools had earlier expressed alarm over the impending budget cut on the senior high school voucher program.

Growing number of dropouts

For its part, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) urged Congress to look into the supposed growing number of voucher beneficiaries who drop out of school despite the financial subsidy.

It noted that the DepEd funding for the voucher system jumped by 470 percent from P6.9 billion in 2013 to P39.3 billion this year.

“It has become the single largest budget item of the DepEd since 2016 but we have not built public senior high schools nor have we invested in public-owned facilities and equipment with these large sums,” ACT chairperson Jocelyn Martinez said.

“It is eating up the education coffers as private schools get profits and accumulate assets while we are left with nothing every start of the school year,” she added.

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