By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
Administrators of some private schools are seriously considering the possibility of closing their respective learning institutions temporarily should government continue to “neglect” their concerns.
The National Alliance of Private Schools (NAPSPHIL) said the number of small private schools that have suspended their operations is increasing. The alliance lamented that the recent pronouncements of the Department of Education and the government are “slowly killing” the private education sector.
DepEd recently announced that the budget allocated for the Government Assistance Subsidy (GAS), formerly called Government Assistance for Students and Teachers in Private Education (GATSPE), has been reduced by 2.93% — from P32.12 billion in the 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA) to P31.18 billion in the 2020 National Expenditure Program (NEP). DepEd said they proposed P52 billion to fund GAS next year.
NAPSPHIL expressed particular concern over the continued implementation of the Senior High School Voucher Program (SHSVP) next year. DepEd said that in the 2019 GAA, there was budget to accommodate more than 1.2 million students. However, in the 2020 NEP, only 766, 995 students are expected to benefit from the voucher program for private schools.
The SHSVP is under the GAS. It is a financial assistance program where subsidies in the form of vouchers are provided to qualified SHS learners. The Qualified Voucher Applicants (QVA) will receive a subsidy on their tuition and other school fees, the amount of which will depend on the category of the QVA and the location of the school where the students will enroll in.
The SHS voucher values are as follows (depending on the category of the QVA): P22,500, P18,000, and P11, 250 in the National Capital Region (NCR). In highly urbanized cities (HUCs) outside NCR, the value of the voucher are P20,000, P16,000, and P10,000 depending on the category. In all other locations, the voucher value are P17,500, P14,000, and P8,750 — also depending on the category set by DepEd.
Worst case scenario
For NAPSPHIL CALABARZON President Reynaldo Faustino, this is a “very subtle way of killing the private schools” because they will be losing their students to public schools. With lesser number of student beneficiaries next year, he noted that students who are currently enrolled in SHS programs offered by private schools might be forced to transfer to public schools.
“If this happens, we will lose enrollment and we will have to let go of our teachers as well,” Faustino explained. If they are unable to sustain their operations, private schools will have no other choice but to close shop. As a means of protest, private schools are considering suspending classes as a “drastic measure” should the government “continue its unfair treatment” of the private education system.
“It’s a serious consideration,” Faustino said when asked about the plans to suspend classes. “Most likely scenario – if the government or DepEd – will not hear us, we might have a one week suspension of classes all over the Philippines for private schools,” he said. “Sana, huwag matuloy but that is the worst scenario that we can do at the moment,” he added.
As of September 7, 2019, date shows that there are over 2.6 million SHS enrollees for SY 2019-2020. Of this number, around 1.2 million are in Grade 11 and more than 1.3 million are in Grade 12. DepEd noted that there are 1.5 million SHS learners in public schools; 980,791 in private schools and 48, 463 in SUCs/LUCs. The number of SHS enrollees, DepEd said, “is going up every day.”
“Kung magsasara ang mga private schools, saan dadalhin ng government ang mga estudyante?” Faustino asked. “If the DepEd and the government will not listen to us, to our appeal, we might be constrained to suspend classes but there is no definite date yet,” he added.
The NAPSPHIL is under the umbrella organization of the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations of the Philippines (COCOPEA), the largest aggrupation of private schools in the country. For COCOPEA Managing Director and Spokesperson lawyer Joseph Noel Estrada, the private schools’ plan to suspend classes is a “passionate reaction” which stems from their agitation over the announced budget cut for GAS.
A big portion of SHS enrollment, Estrada said, is in the private sector. Should they push through with the plan to suspend classes, “there will be a scenario wherein the government’s delivery of education might be paralyzed.”
Overall, Estrada noted that the private schools just want “emphasize their contribution” to the delivery of education in the country. “If they close down, can the government absorb all of the students?” he asked.