Increase Government Subsidies for Private Schools

Today, the COCOPEA will meet atop the DBP Building in Makati to do some strategic planning. It is long overdue. In the past years, the legislation and implementation of the K-12 reform under the leadership of Bro. Armin Luistro, FSC, has allowed huge funds to flow into the Department of Education. In the K-12 reform, public funds have been used primarily for the public schools, including substantial improvements in the compensation of public school teachers. Bro. Armin has also very aggressively improved the supply and maintenance of DepEd schools. Meanwhile, in the wake of the PDAF scandals, substantial amounts have flowed into the CHED to fund public scholarships in State Colleges and Universities.

The new compensation levels for public school teachers have motivated many teachers to abandon their commitments to private education and the particular mission of their former schools to join the public school system. Since the increase in their income is significant, they cannot be faulted. But the loss for the private schools is significant and painful, since these teachers have often been beneficiaries of long-term training and formation programs. Their replacement at old rates of compensation becomes very difficult for the small schools with the inflated teacher salaries for which government must take responsibility. Already the pundits are saying PHP 18,000 monthly at entry level is too small for the public school teacher, and that it is a scandal their salaries are lower than that of call-center agents. So they propose doubling this.

Meanwhile, the competition for our qualified private school teachers is coming not only from the higher compensation rates of our public schools. It is also coming from abroad. The immanent implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community has motivated governments of our neighboring countries to improve their educational systems. Philippine private schools, and even the ADDU, have not been unaffected by this new demand from abroad, which can hemorrhage faculties of good teachers.

This is among the most serious situations that the COCOPEA must tackle today. How shall the private schools position themselves nationally vis-à-vis the public schools. If the aggressive funding for the public schools persists, it will more and more force the closure of private schools. If the scholarship programs of SUCs are built up aggressively while the cost of private education continues to soar in order to pay teachers properly and provide appropriate facilities, more and more private school students shall emigrate to the public schools. And more and more private schools shall be forced to close, as the public costs for quality education soars. I do not think any private school in the country can be spared this fate, if in the long term it is forced to compete with government and taxpayers’ money. The big question then: How can we insure the sustainability of our private schools – which have over the centuries contributed greatly to the delivery of quality and creative education – without stopping the ongoing improvement of the public schools.

While the Constitution foresees cooperation between the private and public schools, the private schools tend only to be tolerated so long as the public schools do not have the power to obliterate them. That power comes from taxpayers’ money.

In this situation, COCOPEA may now have to seriously consider how it may work to bring more public money into private schools. The non-stock-non-profit nature of a large number of private schools may be helpful here.

What is normally considered the impediment to public funding where the separation of Church and state is recognised is the sectarian nature of many schools. But this may not necessarily be an insurmountable impediment, if an impediment at all. Public money already flows legitimately into sectarian schools. For the Islamic madrasah schools in the country that have committed themselves to teach DepEd content courses like English, Filipino, mathematics or science beyond their religious-formation activities, DepEd is able to assist them by subsidizing the salaries of the DepED-course teachers. Otherwise the schools would not be able to deliver the service. The sectarian school then provides the service where a secular service is performed and supported financially by the State. This is laudable practice in DepEd’s desire simply to provide education, especially where education is rare, to those who truly need it. In principle, the same must be possible in such as non-stock-non-profit Catholic schools. Here, there is already recognition from the Constitution that they contribute to the duty of the State to provide education. The Catholic school is first the noun, school, before it is Catholic. As a school which answers to DepEd regulations and must perform at DepEd’s minimum standards, it must find its excellence in its learning outcomes. Its teachers must be primarily responsible for these outcomes. A school is Catholic however in its vision and mission and manner of operation. But the school’s catholicity does not affect the integrity of teaching DepEd mandated content. Geometry is geometry and mathematics is mathematics whether it is taught in a public or in a private school.

In a CEAP meeting recently in which the discussion was on the Philippine Catholic School Standards Project, I contributed this consideration: in regarding the Catholic school, we can distinguish between the Catholic school as school and the Catholic school as Catholic. This is parallel to the Church’s higher-education distinction between the Catholic university qua university and the Catholic university qua Catholic in its Ex Corde Ecclesiae. My proposal is that public subsidies may be possible to the Catholic school as school, even as they may not be applied to activities in the school that belong properly to its being “Catholic”, e.g. religious instruction and formation, retreats and recollections.

Such public subsidies for private education would only recognize the essential role private education has played in the country – when private universities and schools were functioning and setting internationally-recognized academic standards long before public universities were founded and taxation systems had to recognize a separation between Church and state. Private universities over the years have in self-governance and in self-initiated and self-maintained quality assurance mechanisms like accreditation, maintained and improved standards even as they have provided the educational market a diversity and creativity of products that would not be possible in a monolithic state-run all publicly funded system. Public subsidies now for ‘school operations” of private schools would create a dignified equity between state-run and privately-run school systems that would not reduce the latter to beggars as the former improve based on taxpayers’ subsidies. It would indeed be more just to the taxpayers who choose to put their children in private schools. As of today, their tax pesos are not only irrelevant to their children in the private school but subsidizing the public education of other children.

Time to think out of the box to improve the partnership between public and private education!



About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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