Fr. Joel Tabora, S.J.
People who are in private education should be elated at the proposed – yet unnumbered – bill recently introduced in the House of Representatives by Congresspersons Yedda Marie Romualdez and Ferdinand Martin Romualdez entitled, An Act to Strengthen the Role of Private Basic Education in the Philippines by Creating for this purpose the Partnership in Private Education Board and the Partnership Fund for Private Education, Appropriating Funds Thereof, and For Other Purposes.
For short, the proposed law is to be known as the Partnership in Private Basic Education Act.
The bill has two major components: the provision for the Partnership in Private Education Board and the creation of the Partnership Fund for Private Education.
The bill, as presently formulated, provides good news. But also bad. The good news is encouraging. But the bad news distressing.
The good news
The good news is that the bill takes the State policies on education mandated by the Constitution seriously. The State is to promote quality education accessible to all Filipino citizens. The State recognizes the complementary roles of public and private educational institutions in the Philippine educational system. The State recognizes the invaluable contribution of private education to the education of Filipinos.
In this context, the bill undertakes to provide “mechanisms to improve quality in private education in the Philippines.”
One of these mechanisms is the Partnership Fund for Private Education. This fund, conceived as “a special trust fund for the purpose of financing assistance and partnership programs with private basic education institutions” to be funded annually through the General Appropriations Act, is certainly part of the good news. It will allow more government funds to support private basic education. Through the GAA it will be a strong, recurring fund, increasing according to demonstrable need.
The foreseen uses of the fund are also good news. Well, at least at first blush. Among these are educational service contracting, salary subsidy, and even subsidies for loans to finance capital investments in education.
The bad news
The bad news is that the bill, apparently intending to strengthen the role of private basic education in the Philippines, actually weakens it. If weakening this role is intended, the bill is sinister. But if strengthening the role of private basic education is intended, the bill needs reworking, especially in the provisions for its first major component, the Partnership in Private Education Board.
I presume that the partnership over which the Partnership in Private Education Board is to preside is the partnership between government and the private education sector. Through this partnership, the role of private education in the educational system where public and private schools are to function complementarily is to be strengthened.
Government has already weakened the role of private schools
Since the K-12 reform Government has willy nilly weakened the role of private education in the Philippine educational system. It has weakened the complementarity between public and private basic education. Historically the role of private education has been strong. Private education pre-dated public education in the Philippines, and even with the operation of an extensive public education system, the contribution of private education remained strong. Private schools have been numbered among the best in the Philippines; their output has been quality assured by reputable external quality assurance agencies. Private schools have also made basic and even higher education available to communities in remote areas of the Philippines unreached by the public school system.
Private schools have not only delivered quality education. Many have also delivered religious instruction and formation that public schools cannot lawfully deliver. Being able to deliver quality education from a vision and mission of religious education and formation is one of the major ways private schools complement public schools in the Philippines. So are they necessary in the Philippine school system.
Private schools have sustained themselves over the years through tuition and fees. These tuition and fees pay teacher salaries and keep school operations alive. But how much can be demanded for tuition or fees depends on what the market can afford.
Public schools operate through public budgetary allocations appropriated by Congress regardless of the market.
With the K-12 reform, public budgetary allocations for the salaries of teachers in public schools doubled if not trebled what most private schools were paying. Because private schools, especially those serving the poor, were limited by the market in what they could charge for tuition, they could not keep up with the legislated salary increases in public schools. With this systemic salary distortion, many private school teachers migrated to public schools.
The teacher salary subsidies that Congress approved through the GASTPE law lessened the discrepancy between salaries in public and private schools, but were not sufficient to stop the migration of teachers from private schools to public schools.
This is the context, I believe, within which the Romualdez bill wishes to strengthen the role of the private school. Government has de facto weakened the private schools through its one-sided salary policy, and therefore the role that private schools play in the Philippine educational system. If this course is not corrected, Government threatens the very existence of private schools. The Romualdez bill provides a Partnership Fund for Private Education which can correct the one-sidedness of the salary policy, among many other things. Through the Partnership Fund, equity might be achieved where legislation has disturbed equity.
The Bill Weakens the Partnership in Private Education
The irony of the Bill that intends to strengthen the role of private basic education in the Philippine education system is that it weakens this role. It creates for this purpose the Partnership in Basic Education Board. But the Board is structured so that there is no partnership between Government and private sector education.
The Board, attached to the Department of Education, “will have a lead mandate to establish policies, priorities, and objectives as well as direct and implement relevant programs and projects in line with the government’s comprehensive effort to establish, maintain and strengthen its partnership with private educational institution…” (Sec 3), but the composition of the Board ensures that the representatives of the private sector are overpowered. Instead of a partnership, the bill creates a master and lackey situation.
One has to understand that from the beginning Government is stronger than private entities. Government has the strength to kill private entities. Government does not have to listen to nor to cooperate with private entities. So when it legislates a partnership it does so consciously intending to control its formidable powers in subsidiarity so that the private sector can make the contributions to an enterprise only it can contribute, including challenging the government partner to optimized and meaningful service. In legislating a partnership between government and the private sector in this context, structuring the partnership would need to ensure genuine dialogue (vs. monologue), insure insightful collaboration (vs. coerced compliance), insure subsidiarity, entrepreneurship and innovativeness (vs. a strong, cumbersome and bureaucratic State).
In the Partnership in Private Education Board, the representatives of the State or of Government with all of their powers are exceedingly strong, while the representatives of the private sector are exceedingly weak. The Board is chaired by the Secretary of Education, who belongs to the Government. Members of the Board include, the Secretary of Sciences and Technology, the Secretary of Budget and Management, the Director-General of the National Economic and Development Authority, the Chairman of the Commission on Higher Education. That makes six powerful representatives of powerful agencies of government.
Representing the private sector in this Board are three: a representative of a nationwide association of administrators of private basic educational institutions, a representative of a nationwide association of teachers employed by private basic educational institutions, and a representative of a nationwide association of students enrolled in private basic education institutions.
One must note that while the government representatives are ex officio, the private sector representatives are “appointed by the Council” – even though “the Council” is undefined, presumably the Board less the private sector representatives – upon recommendation of their respective sectors. There is no necessity that a recommendee be appointed, even though a recommendee may be a major officer of the sector. Worse, once appointed, the duration of the appointment is only for one year, subject to re-appointment three possible times. But this ensures that private sector representatives who may be uncomfortable with the government representatives can be replaced within a year.
Ignorance or Bad Faith
This lopsidedness in the proposed Partnership in Private Education Board kills the possibility of productive government-private sector partnership.
In fact, the Board is defined as “the lead government agency in determining and ensuring effective coordination, collaboration and engagement with private educational institutions” (Sec. 5 [j]). But it totally coopts and controls the private-sector representation.
Does it really want to bypass the known, productive and efficient private sector organizations in Philippine education today?
It is baffling to me why the crafters of this bill did not name the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA), the recognized voice of private education in the Philippines, as part of the Partnership in Private Education Board.
It is even more baffling to me why the crafters of this bill did not involve the Private Educational Assistance (PEAC) on the same Board. The PEAC, which is a private organization, is arguably the most important partner of government in the service of private education today.
Omitting these two organizations in such a bill betrays either ignorance of how education in the Philippines operates today or bad faith. I pray it is only ignorance.
The COCOPEA and the PEAC have shaped the de facto partnership between the private sector and government today through such as the educational service contracting, teacher salary subsidies, the voucher system of senior high school, the mechanisms for the implementation of the universal access to quality tertiary education law. Does Government through this dubious Partnership for Basic Education Act now wish to kill its private education partner?