Friday , 19 April 2024

Leakage in SHS voucher program noted

By Rose de la Cruz

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian has noted a leakage or wastage of billions of pesos worth of vouchers for the senior high school program, which do not benefit the indigent but deserving students but the wealthy and influential students, in utter violation of the law creating the Kindergarten to Grade 12 (K-to-12) program of the country. He called such leakage and wastage an inefficient use of resources.

Gatchalian said the “wastage and leakage” of billions worth of education SHS vouchers going to rich and can-afford students is despite the K-to-12  law specifically creating the voucher system for the poor but deserving students, so they can finish high school and choose their future direction (either pursue college on scholarship or obtain loans to start their small businesses if they pursue technical vocations).

This is nothing new. In fact, the University of the Philippines– which ideally was created to provide iskolar ng bayan graduates from the ranks of poor– teems with chauffeured, English-speaking and pot smoking students of the rich and influential politicos– in all its campuses. This, because a UP graduate, gets employability and prestige from finishing courses in any of its campuses.

Gatchalian said estimates by his office showed that for SY 2021-2022 alone, the majority or P7.21 billion of the P13.69 billion allocation for SHS voucher program went to students who were not poor at all, reported the Inquirer.

For SY 2019-2020, P7.30 billion or 39 percent of the P18.76 billion earmarked for the financial assistance program also went to nonpoor learners, added the senator who chairs the Senate Committee on Basic Education.

“For me, it’s wastage and leakage. We need to correct this immediately,” Gatchalian said in a statement.

Based on the Annual Poverty Indicators surveys of 2020 and 2021 for SY 2021-2022, 70 percent of the program’s beneficiaries were from non-poor households compared to 64 percent in SY 2019-2020, Gatchalian explained.

He said he would raise this issue at the next budget hearings for 2025  “to make sure that every centavo allocated [by] the government goes to our poor learners and efficient projects and programs.” This only means that we are not being efficient in the use of resources, he said.

Introduced by the Department of Education (DepEd) in 2015, the SHS-VP aims to increase access to senior high school education, especially among the marginalized, by providing qualified beneficiaries subsidies in the form of vouchers, Inquirer added.

Its other objective is to address the overcrowding in public schools as beneficiaries can use the subsidy to pay for their tuition in participating private schools, and local and state universities and colleges (LUCs and SUCs).

Students who finished Grade 10 in public schools, LUCs and SUCs are automatically qualified for the program. Those who completed Grade 10 in private schools who are Education Service Contracting (ESC) grantees are also eligible.

Private school students who are not ESC grantees can avail themselves of the vouchers, following an assessment of their socioeconomic status. Those who qualify will receive 80 percent of the voucher’s value.

Depending on the student’s location, the value of the voucher ranges from P14,000 to P22,500.

Gatchalian said that in a previous Senate hearing on the implementation of Republic Act No. 8545 or the Expanded Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (E-GASTPE) Act, a similar trend in the implementation of the ESC program, a component of E-GASTPE.

“For School Year 2020-2021, 68 percent of ESC recipients were from nonpoor households. This caused a leakage of up to P8.6 billion,” he said.

DepEd lawyer Tara Rama, Director III of the E-GASTPE program office assured the committee that E-GASTPE’s guidelines would be revised to address issues, including the non-prioritization of underprivileged learners.

Even the Commission on Audit noticed this trend in its 2018 performance audit report that DepEd was granting subsidies even to students from families which were not considered impoverished. The finding prompted a recommendation from state auditors for the department to prioritize underprivileged learners.

Gatchalian had earlier observed that the problem of overcrowding in public schools persisted as DepEd failed to create an efficient policy for carrying out the SHS-VP, hence over 542,000 SHS students nationwide remain without regular classrooms. Gatchalian stressed the need for an “effective targeting mechanism” so that only poor students would benefit from it.

“For me, it’s a waste that we don’t solve the problem of [public school] congestion because we are randomly giving the vouchers to students,” he said as he asked the existence of over 19,000 ‘ghost’ students under the SHS voucher program,” he said.

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