Senator Win Gatchalian has warned that marginalized learners will bear the brunt of the P8.4-billion budget cut to the Department of Education (DepEd) and its attached agencies as the government pools funds to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the affected programs support vulnerable learners, Gatchalian said the budget cuts would increase the number of dropouts.
Gatchalian estimates that 60,000 learners will lose their scholarship grants and subsidies because of the P1.4-billion cut to the Senior High School Voucher Program (SHS VP). The SHS VP gives financial assistance to disadvantaged but qualified learners to study in private schools, state and local universities and colleges (SUCs and LUCs), and technical and vocational institutions. According to Gatchalian, the SHS VP could have been a helpful measure to help learners continue their studies while helping struggling private schools.
Other sources of the realigned funds include the P500-million budget for the school-based feeding program and the P107-million allocation for the Special Education Program for learners with disabilities. From the fiscal year 2019’s continuing appropriations, P102-million from the Computerization Program, which could have been utilized for DepEd’s Learning Continuity Plan (LCP), was also realigned.
“We’re cutting where it’s needed, and education is definitely one aspect that is an absolute necessity during these times because we’re dealing with the marginalized sector. About 80 percent of (DepEd’s) enrollment is in the marginalized sector so if we want to reach out to them, huwag dapat i-cut ang mga programs na ito,” said Gatchalian in a Senate panel hearing that tackled the pandemic’s impact to the basic education system.
“Nung nakita ko itong mga cuts, ang unang pumapasok sa isip ko yung mga marginalized dahil sila yung tatamaan dito kaagad at sila yung gusto nating matulungan,” the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture added.
At the same hearing, DepEd Undersecretary for Finance Annalyn Sevilla said the department already asked the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to spare the rest of the DepEd budget since current funds are now being re-programmed for the LCP’s implementation.
For Gatchalian, education in the ‘new normal’ should be resilient and inclusive. In Senate Bill No. 1565 or the Education in the New Normal Act, which proposes a Safe Schools Reopening Plan in times of emergencies, Gatchalian bats for accessible and responsive services for marginalized learners, including those who are living with disabilities.
Senate Bill No. 1565 also seeks to accelerate DepEd’s digital transformation to expedite the delivery of basic services and support distance learning.