By Merlina Hernando Malipot
Even if the proposed budget for the Special Education (SPED) was not considered at all in the 2019 national budget, the Department of Education (DepEd) maintains that it remains among its “priority programs.”
“There are external partners that we will work with so we can continue the program,” DepEd Undersecretary for Finance Annalyn Sevilla said in an interview. Since the SPED is a “continuing program,” she clarified that there will still be funds for it. However, it will be lodged under the Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) – along with other programs.
In an ideal situation, Sevilla said there should be budget that is solely for SPED noting that relying on external partners greatly affects the sustainability of the program. “It’s not sustainable to depend on the external stakeholders because it will only be temporary and there are changes in administration – especially in the local governments – so it’s not sustainable,” she explained. “What we need is for it [support] to be continuous so it’s better if DepEd is the one implementing it,” she added.
While education remains the “topmost priority” of the Duterte administration – set to receive the highest allocation in the 2019 National Expenditure Program (NEP) at P527.714 billion, Sevilla noted that this is 72.06 percent of the original budget that DepEd proposed which is P732.280 billion.
No new line item fror SPED
This year, DepEd noted the new line item for SPED was not considered by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) – at all.
For 2019, Sevilla said DepEd has proposed a line item for SPED amounting to P562,732,000 but “has not been restored despite the appeal to DBM.” She noted that previously, there was a line item for SPED but with the change in approach – shifting to inclusive education – learners with special needs were mainstreamed along with regular students.
“When they changed the approach, made into mainstream, the budget for SPED was included in the MOOE,” Sevilla said. However, she noted that over the years, “it was forgotten that there were many items that are under the MOOE” and the increase in program support every year was never really taken into consideration.
“They have forgotten the program support especially for learners who need it the most because they probably felt that these were just inflationary,” Sevilla said. Recognizing the need to strengthen the program, DepEd proposed a new line item that will be solely for SPED, however, it was not considered in the 2019 budget.
Where the funds will be used
If considered, Sevilla believes the new line item for SPED would be a “big boost” to the program.
“Special education is not the usual, traditional classroom type – the learners have their own needs,” Sevilla said. While there are some SPED learners who are integrated in the mainstream, she noted that “there are some that you need to give support.”
These learners, Sevilla said, need their own curriculum “which should be progressive” as well as facilities and equipment that are “needs-based” such as eyeglasses, Braille instructional materials, and hearing aids – among others. “We need to emphasize that when we say special education, it has different types and levels,” she explained.
Aside from learners who are mentally, psychologically, physically or socially challenged, DepEd’s SPED program also caters to gifted and talented children. “There is a certain percentage in our student population that is exceptional – in terms of curriculum – so we need to support them also,” she added.
Among the highlights of the P 562-million proposed SPED budget is the program support fund for schools with SPED learners through the allotment of P1,000 for each of the 400,732 learners with special education needs (LSENs); P160 million for learner development activities, training, educational visits, camp activities, sports, learning participation and SPED-related activities and P140 million for procurement of instruction and reference materials, early intervention materials, science manipulative materials and other assessment tools.
Recently, Sevilla said 1,300 for SPED items were created. “If we have the teachers, then that means we need to have the facilities and the continuous development of our teachers,” she added. In the proposed SPED budget, P100 million was requested for professional upgrading of the teachers and school heads, travel expenses relative to the participation to activities relevant to the implementation of the program.
Another highlight of the proposed SPED budget is for the P50 million voucher system for private elementary schools for LSENs – particularly the allotment of P10,000 for each of the 5,000 LSENs in private schools.
While DepEd has no intention to “aggressively appeal” for the restoration of the SPED budget, Sevilla believes the “Congress will look for it” with the SPED among the most “in demand” programs of DepEd in 2017.
Sevilla said that since last year, DepEd has been proposing the restoration of a SPED line item in the budget but was not considered. This year, it will be up to the Congress “if we can insert or do something… so it’s the Congress that will help us, just in case,” she said.
Should the SPED budget be restored this 2019, Sevilla said DepEd’s SPED program will remain inclusive but with “more facilities, more upgrading of teachers and more activities appropriate for the new set of learners that we will have.”