2023/24 spending plans
We tabled a massive R29.55 billion main budget to deliver quality education earlier this year, which was the largest departmental budget in the provincial government and the largest education budget to date in the Western Cape.
To deliver quality education, I made it clear at the time that:
We need to reverse learning losses,
We need to rapidly expand access to education,
And we need to improve support to learners with special needs.
The Covid-19 pandemic had a catastrophic effect on learning outcomes in our country, which were already not at the level they should have been.
The fact is that learning losses is the critical problem that we must solve in our education system today.
We simply cannot say that a child is receiving a quality education when too few learners in our country can read for meaning.
So, to reverse learning losses in the Western Cape, we allocated R399 million to a groundbreaking #BackOnTrack programme, the largest learning recovery programme in the country.
We aimed to reach over 15 000 learners in Grades 4, 7, 8, 10 and 12 with extra classes on Saturdays and during the school holidays, and provide extra training to over 5 000 teachers in those grades.
That is in addition to the 310 000 learners and 5 200 teachers in the Foundation Phase who are receiving extra support.
I have had the pleasure of visiting a number of classes to see the work our tutors are doing with our learners, and the enthusiasm and excitement about the programme at our schools has been inspiring.
So too has been the response of our teachers, who have diligently showed up to training and have worked hard to implement their new skills in the classroom.
And initial indications from learner results are showing the positive impact on learning outcomes.
Rapid School Build programme
The additional 19 000 learners enrolling in our schools each year have created a tremendous demand for school placement in the Western Cape.
And we cannot say that a child is receiving quality education,
To rapidly expand access to education, we allocated R2.9 billion to build and maintain school infrastructure in the Western Cape.
We planned to build 21 new and replacement schools, and 289 additional classrooms at existing schools.
This plan was to build on the success of the Rapid School Build programme implemented in 2022, and our delivery of 788 additional classrooms for the 2023 school year, which was a dramatic increase in the pace of delivery compared to previous years.
Once the main budget was announced, our infrastructure team worked hard to get a variety of projects “shovel-ready”, with a pipeline of new schools and classrooms to be delivered over three years.
Support for learners with special needs
It is often said that the measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members.
To improve support to learners with special needs, we allocated an additional R135 million to supporting learners with Autism, and Learners with Profound Intellectual Disabilities (LPID).
This includes the supply additional resources, as well as building 2 new schools for learners with special needs and an additional 28 classrooms at existing special schools or full-service schools.
The funding will also cover the additional teachers, classroom assistants and therapist needed to staff the extra classes.
Adjustment budget cut and impact on service delivery
But in June, we began to hear whispers in the corridors that something was seriously wrong, and that the national government was in trouble.
We heard rumours that national government couldn’t afford the wage deal, and that a full-blown fiscal emergency was looming.
And once the national Minister of Finance announced the mid-term budget on 1 November 2023, the sheer scale of the national fiscal emergency hit us.
The National Treasury then promised us 78% of the cost of the wage agreement for education and health, but in fact only gave our department 64% of the cost, which means we are being short-changed by the national government to the tune of R537 million.
At the same time, the Department of Basic Education cut our conditional grants by R179.4 million:
In other words, the national government has dealt a massive R716.4 million blow to our ability to build and maintain schools, and pay teachers.
Now, to fund the shortfall created by this massive blow, we have had to:
We will have to cut R143.5 million from the #BackOnTrack budget this year, which unfortunately will put an end to our plans to expand the number of and resources for learners in Grades 8 and 10, and the parent programme.
The cuts we face to infrastructure spending are twofold.
Firstly, the national government has slashed our conditional grants related to infrastructure, which has the obvious impact of reducing our infrastructure budget directly.
Secondly, having been short-changed by National Treasury in terms of the wage agreement negotiated without us, we have to find the R527 million somewhere else, including from our infrastructure budget.
The net impact is a R248 million cut to our spending on school infrastructure, which very obviously will limit our ability to deliver new schools and maintain existing ones.
And the cut to our wage agreement funding requires cost containment measures in terms of staffing.
With effect from 18 October, National Treasury centrally froze a variety of categories of vacant posts, including senior and middle management but excluding frontline staff.
In addition, from 1 April 2024, which is the start of the next financial year, we will have to do the following in order to avoid cutting staff:
The upshot of this is that filling of posts is going to take longer, and staff may need to take on extra work.
What makes these cuts unusual
Aside from the sheer scale of the blow from the National Treasury, the mid-term adjustment has had two unusual features:
The warnings that National Treasury would leave us in the lurch on the wage agreement meant that we had no choice but to pull the handbrake on spending from June this year, until further clarity was provided.
We were essentially placed in a holding pattern by the national government for five months!
This environment of extreme uncertainty had an immediate impact on our plans for infrastructure, as we could not enter into contractor agreements without having certainty that we would have the funds to pay them.
And with the National Treasury having effectively put the brakes on all spending between June and October, we essentially have two months to complete the work for the start of the school year.
Moreover, we have absolutely no indication of what the medium term holds, which makes it extremely hard to plan for the next three years.
There is no way to sugarcoat this: the national budget process has completely collapsed.
And as my colleague the provincial Minister of Finance put it, we no longer have a three-year budget process. We don’t even have a one-year budget process. The National Treasury is quite simply operating a pay-as-you-go budget process.
This is particularly damaging for the education sector, because our service delivery calendar does not align to the financial year.
Schools open in January, not at the end of March, so we have a delivery deadline that is a mere two months after the announcement of the national mid-term budget.
The wage agreement comes into effect automatically, and we must fund it immediately, so we have absolutely no choice but to find the money somewhere, somehow.
Fighting for you, despite cuts
It is difficult to find hope when in the face of the mismanagement of the national economy.
It is difficult to find optimism when we know how much tougher things will get financially.
And it is difficult to make plans when there is so much uncertainty over the budget for the next three years.
But even when the national government has dealt such a severe blow to our province, we will continue to fight to deliver quality education to the learners of the Western Cape.
We will continue provide extra classes for learners and extra training for teachers through the #BackOnTrack programme.
We will build new schools and classrooms to accommodate the number of learners needing places for the 2024 school year.
We will still include two new special schools and an additional 28 classrooms at existing schools for learners with special needs in our infrastructure plan.
We will provide the additional support promised for learners with special needs.
And we will not stop fighting to get the budget we need to deliver quality education for every learner, in every classroom, in every school in the Western Cape.