Tough economic times are leading to a growing number of parents who simply cannot afford to pay school fees. This puts a massive financial strain on fee-paying schools relying on the collection of fees to sustain their daily running costs.
Learners from poorer households are an ongoing priority for the Western Cape Government. We are particularly proud of the various initiatives in place to assist our learners and schools in poorer communities - despite our own severe budgetary constraints.
We have supported initiatives for a system that compensates schools for school fee exemptions, as we recognize the important role that fee exemptions play in granting access to poorer learners.
Many of our schools in the Western Cape are classified as Quintile 4 and 5 schools (fee paying), which are supposed to be wealthy, but the reality is that they are attended by a large number of poorer learners. In some instances these schools should actually be classified as Quintile 1-3 schools (no-fee schools). The National Quintile system and concomitant funding does not allow this, which shows the flawed nature of this system.
To mitigate the effects of the quintile system, the WCED has this year made an increased amount of over R50 million available to assist Quintile 4 and 5 schools who are struggling to collect school fees from parents.
There are currently 574 public ordinary fee paying schools in the Western Cape. This year the WCED has paid out fee compensation to 554 of these schools. This means that the WCED is assisting 96.5% of fee paying schools. Compensation for school fee exemptions is made available retrospectively for the previous school year, e.g. compensation paid in 2017 is for exemptions granted in the 2016 school year.
A learner is exempted from paying school fees if;
a) He or she is an orphan or has been abandoned by his or her parents
b) A learner for whom a poverty-linked state social grant is paid
c) A learner whose parents applied for an exemption from the payment of school fees, which was granted by the overning body.
Parents qualify for exemption if the school fees are more than 10% of the parents' combined annual salary.
They can apply for partial exemption if the fees represent between 2% and 10% of their annual salary depending on the number of children they have at a fee-paying, public school.
Since 2011, we have supported our schools in providing access to our poorer learners by providing fee compensation. In 2011, the WCED paid out R20 388 379 million with 48 974 learners claiming compensation. Six years later in 2017, the WCED has paid out more than double the amount, paying R49 393 878 for 80 895 learners in the Western Cape (up from 77 264 in 2016).
This is over 100% more than the WCED paid out six years ago and is indicative of the tough economic circumstances many of our parents, and consequently our schools, currently find themselves in.
The Districts with the highest number of schools that applied for compensation are:
In addition to fee compensation, in 2013 the WCED offered certain public schools serving poorer communities the option to apply for No-Fee Status. This was done to assist our poorest schools in quintiles 4 and 5 in alleviating some of the funding difficulties they face.
In the 2017/18 financial year, we continue to support 218 schools that have been declared no-fee schools through our own funding mechanisms.
The WCED acknowledges and appreciates the positive role played by school governing bodies (SGBs) in the financial management of our public schools, as well as in supplementing the financial resources provided to these schools by the department.
I am, however, aware of a number of parents who are in a financial position to pay school fees, but choose not to, knowing that their child cannot be discriminated against. Schools can take legal action against parents who owe fees and who do not qualify for exemption or partial exemption. In cases where parents choose to pay for non-essentials over their child's school fees, I really must appeal to them to act responsibly and pay their school fees.
Compulsory school fees remain an important source of additional funds in public schools that have not been declared no-fee schools.
Every child has a right to education and we are very pleased that we can assist these schools with this kind of compensation, as well as assist our parents who are struggling to make ends meet.