Senator eyes expanding gov’t scholarship program in private schools

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Friday, May 23, 2014


SENATOR Juan Edgardo Angara is batting for the expansion of the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (GASTPE) to include new benefits like transportation and book allowances for poor students.

As the enrollment overflow in public schools rise, Angara said that government is buying more seats in private schools to accommodate the overflow of enrollment.

Hence, there is an urgent need for an amendatory bill to increase the amount of financial assistance to poor students in order to reduce their burden of high education cost in the secondary and tertiary levels.

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Angara said the GASTPE program, which is the country's biggest scholarship program in private schools that aims to decongest public schools, needs to be strengthened so that it can cover more students at higher subsidy rates.

In Senate Bill 199, Angara proposed a raft of reforms to the Republic Act 6728 or the GASTPE Law, which include prioritizing students in fifth- and sixth-class municipalities.

He also wanted those coming from poor families identified in the government's poverty maps, like the one prepared by the Department of Social Welfare and Development, be given "right of way" to GASTPE.

The Department of Education (DepEd) recently announced that for the coming school year, it would provide tuition subsidy to 352,328 students who will enroll in private schools through GASTPE’s education service contracting scheme.

Under the voucher system for the school year 2013-2014, the amount of subsidy was P6,500 for a Grade 7 student in schools outside Metro Manila.

Noting that the program only covers tuition subsidy, Angara said other schooling expenses, "the ones which are in fact higher than tuition," become part of the assistance package.

Some of these, according to the senator, are transportation allowance and higher funds for textbooks.

"We just cannot dump the excess of the public school system to private schools without giving them the same amount of tools we give to public school students," he said.

In the case of textbooks, Angara said there should be "private school-public school parity" in which the amount of textbooks for GASTPE scholars shall not be less than the per student allocation in government-run schools.

He said a transportation subsidy should be considered in special cases when a student who was not accommodated in a school in his community has to spend for fare in commuting to a private school far from his home.

Angara's proposed amendments to the GASTPE law also cover college students.

The neophyte senator is batting for the inclusion of qualified enrolling students in "priority courses" determined by the Commission on Higher Education and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

He is also proposing that tuition subsidy to scholars living below the poverty line be increased by 10 percent a year, subject to availability of funds and screening by the appropriate government agency.

"Seventy percent of any increase, however, in the tuition subsidy shall be earmarked by the recipient school for the payment of the salaries of teachers while 20 percent shall be used to improve school facilities," Angara said.

To fund all this expansion of programs, Angara proposed that DepEd be allowed to use its previous years' savings to be augmented by other sources such as 20 percent of travel tax and airport departure tax collections, a portion of the income of other GOCCs, and lump-sum appropriations and other departure tax collections.

The number of enrollees in the Philippine public schools has been constantly increasing over the years because more and more Filipino families cannot afford the tuition in private schools.

In turn, the public school system has been unable to cope with the surge in student populations, resulting in many public schools becoming too congested and no longer conducive to student learning.

Manpower and equipment shortage in public schools is aggravated by the annual increase in the budgetary needs of public schools.

In 1998, Congress first approved the expansion of the GASTPE law to give many poor students the opportunity to avail of quality education in private schools by providing financial assistance to private schools through tuition fee supplements.

Over the years, however, the GASTPE financial assistance to students has fallen far below the government’s per capita cost in the public schools, Angara said.

Angara further acknowledged that the public school system was getting the boost it finally needed from the Aquino administration's infusion of funds to answer the classroom and teacher gap.

In the meantime, however, he stressed that there is a need to ensure that the current generation of children from poor families receives all the help it can get whether in public or private schools. (Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)

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