2024 education budget: When will government learn?

August 30, 2023

by Minerva Jane San Miguel

My classmate once asked me how to spell ‘house’. We were in 12th grade.

The country is in a learning crisis. A World Bank study recently revealed that 90% of Filipino students at age 10 are not able to read and understand age-appropriate text. Using international standardized assessments, the Philippines is also at the bottom on core subjects like reading, math and science. Imagine now how these kids will be able to learn more complex skills and knowledge as they reach higher grade levels.

Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary, Vice-President Sara Duterte, has boldly vowed to fix basic education in six years, if given Php100 billion more. But the proposed 2024 budget does not support such drama – there is only a Php36.8 billion increase (to Php758.6 billion) for DepEd, which is only 39% of the Php94.5 billion increase it got in 2022-2023.

We are not even sure if an increase of Php100 billion is indeed enough to address the learning gaps. The DepEd appears to be short as well of scientific study on shortages in facilities, textbooks and teacher trainings as well as on curriculum improvements. Then, it just goes on to shock us with bold declarations.

Evident default

The truth is the DepEd, with a 13.2% allocation in the proposed Php5.768 trillion 2024 budget, is second only to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) with 14.3% share. Only the Office of the Secretary (OSEC) has a minimal budget increase of 5.3%, while all the other agencies under the department have budget cuts.

The agencies under the DepEd that are experiencing budget cuts are: the National Book Development Board, by 9.1%  (from Php145.4 million to Php132 million); Early Childhood Care Development Council, by 25% (Php295.2 million to Php221.1 million); National Museum, by 15.3% (Php1.2 billion to Php 1 billion); National Council for Children’s Television, by 16.5% (from Php75.6 million to Php63.1 million); Philippine High School for the Arts, by 8.6% (from Php110 million to Php100.5 million); and the National Academy of Sports , by a huge 44.9% (Php357.4 million to Php 196.9 million).

Eighty percent (80%) of the OSEC’s budget goes to the Support to Schools and Learners Program (SSLP), with Php568.7 billion. The SSLP, notably schools’ operational expenses, increases by only 1.4%, which does not reflect Sec. Sara Duterte’s pretend resolve to fix the sector. In fact, the Government Assistance and Subsidies (GAS) for the Senior High School (SHS) Voucher Program is cut by 36%; this is supposed to provide junior high school graduates financial aid to pursue their chosen senior high school program in private and non-DepEd schools and institutions.

Basic education curriculum suffers a Php1.1 billion budget decrease. At a glance, there appears to be favorable increases in basic education inputs, particularly in new teaching personnel positions (budget of Php2.3 billion, 10% increase); textbooks and other instructional materials (budget of Php12 billion, 1,106% increase); and basic education facilities (Php33.8 billion, 44% increase). The increase in the 2024 budget for teachers, however, is lower than the increase in 2022-2023 despite teachers’ mounting clamor for salary upgrades, delayed benefits and more teachers. Meanwhile, the whopping increase in the budget for textbooks and instructional materials is clearly for the introduction of a not-so-new and rather ill-conceived Matatag basic education curriculum for next school year. (This deserves another discussion.)

At any rate, the budget for GAS-SHS plus those for the Educational Service Contracting (ESC) Program in private junior high schools and the Joint Delivery Voucher Program (JDVP), Php39.3 billion all in all, is still a lot higher than the budgets for textbooks or for facilities. This shows DepEd’s priority, despite decreasing GAS-SHS, to migrate pupils to private schools instead of giving them comprehensive support.

The State remains to opt to pass its responsibility to the private schools than realign the national budget for developing resources, learning materials, buildings, facilities, and most importantly, the teachers, to benefit more poor Filipino learners.

Crucial cuts

The learning crisis is a compounding problem, where basic education is crucial for pupils to learn complex knowledge and functions later in life. But looking at the proposed 2024 budget, it appears that the crisis is not only confined in the basic education sector. In the overall, only pre-primary and primary education captures an increase in budget, while secondary, post-secondary and non-tertiary, and tertiary education get a Php8.3 billion budget cut.

There’s a 6% budget cut (from Php107 billion to Php 101billion) for State Universities and Colleges (SUCs); 3.9% decrease (Php30.9 billion to Php29.7 billion) for Commission on Higher Education (CHED); 11% has been cut (Php2.9 billion to Php2.6 billion) for Philippine Science High School (PSHS); and a 6% drop (Php16 billion to Php15 billion) in the budget allocation for Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA). These cuts are happening while the administration’s economic managers are putting the blame on labor-skills mismatch for the country’s dire employment situation.

Also ironically, these budget cuts are happening while military education gets a Php3 billion budget, even higher than that of PSHS, a 13% increase or an additional amount of Php342.9 million from 2023. But most ironic of all, education secretary Sara Duterte has without shame requested Php150 million in confidential funds for DepEd on top of the Php500 million confidential funds that she is already getting under the Office of the Vice-President.

We need critical thinkers

It appears that the learning crisis is only a manifestation of deeper problems. The Philippine government has lost the handle on the crucial role of education in nation building and development, because for the longest time, it has aimed for an economy that is liberal to foreign investments and products and to big local corporations that do not invest in agriculture and industry, and with minimal, almost defaulting government role.

The neoliberal obsession muddles visions of economic progress, democracy, people’s rights, love of country and other affirmative values, and has only ingrained in the education sector aims for global competitiveness. The DepEd’s concept of “quality education” is based on this bankrupt paradigm.

The government has been saying that we need that kind of education that produces learners who are fully equipped for the global market. But the government seems to be not even investing enough for this obsession. The 2024 budget also reflects at least slipshod management of the education sector and at most self-serving interests, pushing our problems from bad to worse.

The country undoubtedly faces significant challenges in filling learning gaps and squarely addressing the education crisis. But addressing the challenges requires more than substantial increases in the education budget, although if that happens, it will indicate that we have a better government. And that is what we are working for – a government that can manage and allocate resources intelligently for an education sector that is truly transformative. ###