WHEN classes opened in all levels this week, stories about persistent shortages in our public schools again surfaced. When commentators talk about the state of education in the country, few find cause to sing the education department’s praises. Scarcity, instead, is the familiar refrain.

In 2014, government budgeted P307.58 billion for education, about 11 percent of the national budget. Education took such a high spot on the state’s priority list that the appropriation for it was bigger than the combined appropriations for social welfare, agriculture, transportation and communications, and health.

Yet initial reports suggest that many public schools continue to deal with a lack of classrooms, school furniture, textbooks and instructional supplies. Thousands of teachers’ positions remain vacant.

Why then did the Department of Education (DepEd), at the end of 2014, join four other national agencies with the largest unreleased appropriations? The Commission on Audit (COA) said that at the end of last year, DepEd still had some P2.27 billion in its budget that had yet to be spent. Which of its programs were delayed or shelved? Which school district’s needs went unmet?

Scarcity in the public school system isn’t just a matter of absent resources. “Highly centralized policy, instruction and implementation processes” were also partly responsible for shortages and overcrowding in public schools, said the Philippine Institute for Development Studies in 2009.

It recommended that the DepEd central office let go of the decision-making process in procurement and physical facilities, among others, and to let regional or division levels make judgment calls. It seems reasonable to expect they would know local needs better than the central office does.

Consider everything DepEd needs to do. That includes putting in place infrastructure and other needs of the new senior high school next year, and moving schools from locations at risk of floods, landslides and quakes. Under Republic Act 9155 or the Governance of Basic Education Act, principals, parents and local school boards are supposed to play a greater role in managing schools. Isn’t it time the DepEd central office let them?