Though the Department of Education’s (DepEd) Special Education (SPED) program received a budget allocation for the first time under its current administration, Senator Win Gatchalian underscores the need for adequate and dedicated funding to address current gaps in the program including the shortage of teachers.
Citing estimates from the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), a 2018 report from the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed that one out of seven or around 5.1 million Filipino children are living with disabilities. The figures grew from 3.5 million in 2016. And while DepEd’s records show that currently there are 14,009 regular schools that cater to SPED students and separate SPED centers nationwide, there are only 4,000 SPED teachers.
Gatchalian hopes to secure dedicated funding for SPED through Senate Bill 171 or Inclusive Education for Children and Youth with Special Needs Act. The proposed measure seeks to establish Inclusive Education Learning Resource Centers in all divisions of public schools nationwide. The bill also mandates the DepEd to have a separate line item for learners with special needs.
For 2020, SPED received a P100 million allocation, which is still way below the original proposal amounting to P500 million. During the passage of the 2019 national budget, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) rejected DepEd’s proposal to have a special budget line item for SPED worth P562 million. SPED funds were instead included in the department’s budget for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE).
“Kung mabibigyan natin ang mga kabataang may kapansanan ng dekalidad na edukasyon, matutulungan natin silang mahasa ang kanilang mga abilidad upang makapag-ambag sila sa ating lipunan. Ngunit hindi ito magagawa kung kulang ang ating pondo para mabigyan ng kaukulang suporta ang ating mga mag-aaral at guro sa SPED,” said Gatchalian.
The shortage of qualified SPED teachers forces regular teachers, some of them are on an entry-level, to handle learners with disabilities despite their lack of expertise. These regular teachers also lament that though they handle learners with disabilities, they don’t receive the same compensation as that of the SPED teachers. Under the first tranche of the Salary Standardization Law 5, entry-level teachers are paid P22,316 per month, which falls under Salary Grade (SG) 11. SPED teachers’ salaries fall under SG 14, which makes them entitled to a starting salary of P29, 277.
“The reality is that there are regular teachers who refuse to accept children with disabilities in their classrooms because they are not paid with the appropriate wages. Some would tell the students to instead go to school that caters primarily to SPED students. And this is the sad state of our education system,” said Dr. Therese Bustos, director of the Assessment Curriculum and Technology Research Center at the University of the Philippines Diliman.