Newspaper clipping – The Mercury – 24 August 2009

Concern over plans for school funding

Radical changes to the current school funding model, to include the capping of school fees and giving all schools powers to mange their finances, could be on the cards as early as next year.

The proposals have caused a stir in the education sector, with some warning that the changes would compromise the quality of education, while others have welcomed them.

This comes as the national education department embarks on its second review of the school funding policy. The department’s system planning and monitoring deputy director, Firoz Patel, said discussions on the review were taking place. Details would be released once the proposals went out for public comment.

Sources close to the process told The Mercury that the plan was aimed at facilitating the entry of poor pupils to quality schools, by setting a limit on the fees charged by former Model C schools and giving poor schools more funds.

The proposals would include doing away with the “outdated” ranking system currently used as a funding model for public schools. The model has come under fire from experts who say that it is out of touch with reality. Other proposals in the discussion document include awarding all public schools Section 21 status – allowing them to manage their own fund – rewarding well-performing schools and compensating for schools that exempt pupils from fees.

The School Governing Foundation’s Clive Lewis warned against any move to “seriously” cap fees. He said it would be difficult for the public school system to function without parent’s financial contributions, which totaled R10 billion annually. This was a considerable amount to remove from the provision of quality education.
“Communities would seriously oppose capping fees to an unreasonable level, which would make it difficult for them to maintain schools. They would take legal action and our organization would consider going to the Constitutional Court if the new model is unreasonable,” he said.

Speaking on the possible structure of the new funding formula, the foundation’s Mike Kessel said schools which collected more in fees would get less government funding.

A Durban high school principal said her school collected R13 million a year in fees from parents and received less than R200 000 from the department. An amount of R8m was used to pay 32 teachers hired by the school.
“We won’t be able to continue as we do if funding is limited and a lot would change. It’s not just about class size; we also offer a lot of extras, including a wider range of subjects. We would have to add extra into our fees if funding decreased,” she said.

Margate Primary School principal Gert Lutge said the school would have difficulty funding extras if fees were capped.

National Teachers Union spokesman Allen Thompson said the current quintile ranking system was open to corruption. Legislation compelled district officials to mange the budgets of non-section 21 schools. Many of these officials used the system to buy school supplies from friends at prices that were grossly inflated.
  “Some schools order one thing and get something totally different. Some get their materials late or never,” he said.

Other educationists, however, welcomed the proposals, saying their main objective was to take the most financially vulnerable sectors into account.

South African Democratic Teachers Union research officer Jon Lewis said while free education would be ideal, fee-capping was a step in the right direction. He cautioned against granting all schools Section 21 status, saying that not all were capable of managing their own finances.

Education expert Prof Kobus Maree agreed, saying schools needed training to handle their finances.
“You can’t drop this difficult task on them. Things need to be done very carefully,” he said.
He expressed concern about the proposal to reward schools that performed well, saying that schools that produced good results were generally well resourced.