Introducing a new tax on private schools will help capture real time data on how many private schools exist in Uganda both at central and local government levels. It will help identify businesses, charities and masqueraders in the education sector. It will interest parents to begin a discussion on the cost of educating their children, cost benefit analysis, value for money and returns on investment that many schools are jealously and selfishly guarding without compliance to the law.
Since there is different characterisation of private schools in Uganda today, ranging from the most powerful to the weak, the licensed to the registered, those still as business plans and the illegal ones, access to information on their financing still remains a challenge in Uganda. With less than $3 (about Shs7,500) per pupil per year as capitation for primary schools and less than $50 (about Shs115,000) per student in Universal Secondary Education programme per year, we can say that, to some extent, public schools are trying to offer some information with zero attempt by private schools. There is hardly any private school that can offer information regarding what the money they collect from parents does.
“Mind your business, it is my business, this is my school, I started it,” this is what most private school proprietors will offer to any stakeholder in need of information regarding education financing.
Firstly, the Pre-Primary, Primary and Post primary Education Act 2008, states that private schools shall include profit, non-profit and international institutions. With some private primary and secondary schools registering as non-profit but operate as businesses, majority of them continue to cheat and underpay teachers, exploit and kill their voice, threaten and blacklist all those teachers that assert their rights.
While many pure international schools are not in such behavior of tormenting teachers because they offer an employment mix with both local and expatriate personnel, they implement a foreign curriculum, have an education philosophy and offer continuous professional development to their staff, prioritising the teaching staff. They offer better wages compared to local private schools and semi-international schools that are increasingly opening business in Uganda.
While the law places the responsibility of financing nursery school education in the hands of parents or guardians. With the current 98 per cent nursery schooling in the hands of private proprietors, government will be assured of unrivalled tax collections because of the fact that majority of nursery schools both rural and urban overcharge parents and have high enrollment.
Because clause 30 of the first schedule of the Pre- Primary, Primary and Post primary Education Act 2008 states that the accounts of the board shall be audited annually by the Auditor General or an auditor appointed by the Auditor General, private schools will not run away from the new tax, but to comply. As the Auditor General requirement may apply to public schools, private schools ought to have their internal and external audits done as well. Without selective application of the law, private schools will be helping in offering a true and fair view of the income and expenditure of the school for the financial year to its chief financiers, the parents.
Much as it was part and parcel of the World Bank’s structural adjustment programme that resulted in the economic reform programmes in 1987 for Uganda, liberalisation gave birth to private schools which have for long taken the lead in offering quality education, enjoying tax holidays, and evading government policy, not complying to regulations for they trade as businesses with no choice but to maximise profits.
The writer is the Executive Director of the Coalition of Uganda Private School Teachers Association