By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — The queues in stores selling school supplies might be long as parents and their children buy notebooks and pens, but no one is fooled: the upcoming 2012-2013 academic year is not going to be as easy as falling in line at the cashier for many Filipinos.
ACT Teachers Party-List Representative Antonio Tinio and Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño issued separate but related warnings on what students and their parents should expect as the school year opens on June 4. Tino said there will be the predictable shortage of teachers, classrooms, and water and sanitation facilities in public schools, while Casiño said tuition and other fees will be beyond the reach of many a minimum-income earner.
As if to head off any pending criticism, the Department of Education has already announced that it is facing a shortage of 132,483 teachers, 97,685 classrooms, and 153,709 water and sanitation facilities. Tinio said these figures are set to get even worse.
“The Aquino administration has failed to provide sufficient funding in the 2012 national budget for the additional requirements of our public school system in School Year 2012-2013, including the needs of 1.6 million incoming kindergarten students,” said Tinio.
“DepEd claims that it will have the teacher shortage down to 11,620 by the end of this school year, but that’s only because they include over 49,000 contractual teachers funded by local government units and around 20,000 volunteer kindergarten teachers employed by DepEd in their accounting. In truth, these teachers are generally grossly underpaid and deprived of basic workers’ benefits because of the contractual nature of their employment. DepEd has a legal obligation to regularize them.”
The lawmaker pointed out that even as the Deped made the claim that it will be able to construct 30,000 to 40,000 new ones this school year, through a public-private partnership scheme, these certainly won’t be ready by June.
“Also, it still remains to be seen whether or not the PPP scheme will deliver,” he said.
In the meantime, Tinio said the alarming shortage in water and sanitation facilities, meaning clean toilets, faucets, sinks, and running water, will mean that 21.5 million school children will continue to suffer unsanitary conditions in our public schools, exposing them to health risks and outbreaks of disease.
“The bottom line is that the opening of the new school year will show that the Aquino administration has failed to muster the political will and budgetary resources to substantially address, if not solve, the long-running shortages that continue to plague our public school system,” he said.
Cost of education too high
For his part, Casiño said the cost of education now in the country has become “simply too expensive for ordinary families.” The lawmaker is senior vice-chairman of the Congressional Committee on Higher and Technical Education.
In a recent media forum, Casiño leveled his criticism against the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), saying that the agency is “inutile” in keeping tuition and other fees low. Last May 8, the Ched admitted in a congressional inquiry that it has never actually turned down any application for a tuition increase. It also admitted having no policy on miscellaneous fees which of late, Casiño said, has been used to go around CHED’s circulars on tuition increases.
A study by the Kabataan partylist shows that in 2001, the national average of tuition and other fees in private higher educational institutions was P257.41 ($ 5.97) per unit. This rate went up to P501.22 $11.65) in 2010, with the increase amounting to 94.72 percent.
In the National Capital Region, the average tuition and other fees in 2001 was P439.59 ($ 10.23), it has since gone up to P980.54 ($22.81) in 2010, an increase of 123.06 percent. A college student in the NCR with a P210 ($4.88) per unit load has to come up with an average of P20,591 (US$488) per semester, excluding costs for other school needs such as food, materials and transportation.
At present, a student in a private college or university needs an average of P22,552.38 ($535) per semester to be able to enroll. Again, the amount also does not include what is needed for miscellaneous fees, books and other school needs, and allowance.
“The impact of these fee increases is that the poor find it very hard to finish their studies and the consequence is that they can’t go up the income ladder. What is worse though is that this has become a vicious cycle and the Ched has done nothing to stop it,” Casiño said.
CHED useless against tuition increases
Casiño also said that from how it has handled the situation, the Ched appears to be just going through the motions of monitoring tuition costs He said the Ched has failed in its duty to check the activities of schools when it comes to charging tuition.
“The fact that the Ched has no formula for setting tuition rates, not even a benchmark for a reasonable rate of return in schools exposes the Ched’s failure to protect the public interest,” said.
According to Casiño it has become evident that the Ched has no power to deny tuition increase applications, only to approve it, since the only requirements are certificates of compliance (consultation and 70 percent of proceeds supposedly for salaries of staff), a letter of advice and other pro forma documents.
“In reality, CHED has no power or ability to check if the increases are necessary and how they figure vis-a-vis the schools’ profits,” Casiño said.
In recent media reports, Malacañang advised the Ched to ensure that the fee increases are within reasonable rates but this is, Casiño pointed out, actually beyond the power of the agency. As proof, he said the number of higher educational institutions (HEIs) seeking tuition increase only went down from 301 to 222 because the others were not able to comply with the requirements and withdrew their applications.
According to reports, this coming school year, 222 HEIs will increase their tuition by an average of 10 percent or P41.57 ($0.966 per unit) as the nationwide average is pegged at P475.47 or $10.86 per unit according to CHED data.
This increase is the same as last year’s 10 percent and not far from the highest recorded increase of 11.6 percent in 2005.
According to Kabataan partylist, the top five biggest earners among the country’s schools amassed P15 billion ($ 348 million) in revenues with more than P3 billion or $70 million in profits in the last six years.
Regulate tuition and other fees
Casiño has already filed House Bill 1961 which lays down the basis for the regulation of school fees.
Among its salient features are the following:
(1) On tuition, private schools will determine its rate of tuition based on a reasonable return of investment of not more than six percent. Any increase in tuition fees will be apportioned as such:
(a) At least 70 percent will go to salaries, wages, allowances and other benefits of faculty and/or non-academic personnel except administrators who are principal stockholders of the school; and
(b) At least 20 percent will go to the improvement or modernization of buildings, equipment, libraries, laboratories, gymnasia and similar facilities and to the payment of other costs of operation;
Regarding miscellaneous fees, Casiño said that in his proposal, each private school may charge, aside from tuition, a reasonable amount of required miscellaneous fees t provide for actual costs incurred for student services based on a reasonable return of investment of not more than six percent provided that the purpose for each and every sub-item under the category of miscellaneous fees will be clearly indicated.
As for voluntary fees, private schools may charge, aside from tuition and miscellaneous fees, other extraneous fees provided that these are voluntary, the non-payment of which will not affect a person’s status as a bonafide student.
Casiño also said that in his proposal, no increases in either tuition or miscellaneous fees should be granted in the absence of an agreement, made through public hearing, between a school’s competent authority and its students, parents, non-academic personnel and faculty equally represented. There will be no other school fees which may be required aside from tuition and miscellaneous fees.