By Hannah Torregoza
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said he hopes the government will restore the P8.4-billion cut done on the budget of the Department of Education (DepEd) and its attached agencies so that marginalized students would still be able to continue their studies even under the new normal.
Gatchalian, chair of the Senate committee on basic education, arts and culture, said he fears that the marginalized learners will bear the brunt of the budget cuts done on the education sector, as the government pools funds to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
The senator said cutting the DepEd’s budget would increase the number of high school dropouts in the country as an estimated 60,000 students 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 primarily 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.
Gatchalian said this program could have been a helpful measure to help learners continue their studies while helping struggling private schools.
“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,” Gatchalian said during a Senate panel hearing that tackled the pandemic’s impact to the basic education system.
“About 80 percent of the enrollment is in the marginalized sector so if we want to reach out to them, huwag dapat i-cut ang mga programs na ito (we should not cut the funds for these programs),” he said.
Gatchalian noted that the 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 was also realigned. The funds, he said, could have been utilized for DepEd’s Learning Continuity Plan (LCP).
“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 (When I saw these cuts, the first thing that entered my mind is that these marginalized learners will suffer and they are the ones we should be helping),” he stressed.
It was DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones who earlier disclosed during the Senate hearing that the government realigned the P8.4-budget of the DepEd for its COVID-19 response pursuant to the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act.
Also during the hearing, DepEd Undersecretary for Finance Annalyn Sevilla said the department has 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.
Briones said that despite the budget cuts the department will still pursue the LCP program even though it is costly as 38 percent of public school teachers have already been trained in using ICT for online delivery of lessons as part of their approach to the “new normal.”
Gatchalian earlier filed Senate Bill No. 1565 or the Education in the New Normal Act, which proposes a Safe Schools Reopening Plan in times of emergencies.
The said measure calls for accessible and responsive services for marginalized learners, including those who are living with disabilities.
The lawmaker had also filed Senate Bill No. 1565 that seeks to accelerate DepEd’s digital transformation to expedite the delivery of basic services and support distance learning. [Hannah L. Torregoza]#