With an enrollment of 3, 000 students, one would easily think Soroti High School proprietors are reaping big. But Mr Samuel Ediu, the head teacher regrets why he partnered with the government to implement Universal Secondary Education (USE) as the school grapples with underfunding.
When the government introduced the scheme in 2007, many private schools rushed to apply to join.
Their expectation was that the government would pay tuition for its students in time and support the schools in expanding infrastructure and paying teachers’ salaries.
But this has been the reverse. Mr Ediu said since the programme started six years ago, money has been constant amidst rising inflation coupled with late releases which affects their performance. For instance, he is not able to pay his teachers on time. “The money the government gives is not enough. The figure has been constant since 2007. How do we account to suppliers who give us their commodities on loan and government does not consider inflation,” Mr Ediu asks. He adds: “It is unrealistic for the government to bring a good programme they cannot fund.”
Although the government has controlled inflation to 3 per cent as of May, it hit a record 30 per cent last year while disbursements to schools stayed at Shs47,000 per child a term. There were delayed salary payments and about 30, 000 unexplained teacher deletes from the payroll.
The different constraints that presented themselves in the past financial year have combined to make the outlook for education bleak at most. There could have been a commitment by the government in increasing budget allocation to the sector from Shs1.6 trillion in the previous year to Shs1.8 trillion.
But this is short of the promise to allocate at least 20 per cent of the national budget to education in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals come 2015. The sector’s budget has been reducing over the years from 15 per cent in 2009/10 to today’s 13.3 per cent. It was 14.6 per cent of the national budget last year.
But their problems are not to end yet. According to Education Minister Jessica Alupo, the ministry had proposed that the government increases capitation grant to schools to Shs70, 000 a student in the 2013/14 Budget, which Finance ministry declined because of limited resources.
“Their response is that they are handling roads and energy as priorities for this financial year. We thought we would increase the USE figure but it has also been put under unfunded priorities,” Ms Alupo said.
Her remarks leave partners like Mr Ediu in the implementation of free education in jeopardy.
“After sending money in February, we are not going to get money until August. What are we going to pay the teachers? The money we were given paid off arrears because we closed the year in debts. What happens to May, June and July now,” Mr Ediu asks.
“Sometimes I expect Shs70 million but I get Shs50 million. At the ministry, they will tell you they released 99 per cent,” the head teacher adds. However, the government insists they released 99 per cent of the funds according to the school term system.
The situation is worse in universal primary institutions where administrators argue that they do not know what they are supposed to get because every time they try to find out, they are threatened with a transfer.
The 2008 Education Act bans introduction of any extra charges especially in the rural areas.
However, the UPE policy guidelines only exempt urban schools which are allowed to charge not more than Shs10,400 per term for maintenance costs.
Private schools implementing USE scheme use the funds paid for students to meet teachers’ salaries, construct classrooms, laboratories and purchase teaching materials like reagents and chemicals.
State Minister for Primary Education Kamanda Bataringaya puts the figure government pays for each pupil a year at Shs7,000.
This is about Shs39 spent on a child each day in primary. Although it is against the memorandum of understanding schools signed with the government, they have resorted to charging parents a fee ranging from Shs50,000 to Shs100,000 to complement government capitation grants.
As Finance Minister Maria Kiwanuka presented her budgetary plans for 2013/14 on Thursday, she committed to increase primary teachers’ salaries by 15 per cent