Inclusion of elementary students in gov’t voucher program proposed

Published November 5, 2020, 3:38 PM

by Merlina Hernando-Malipot

A group of private schools welcomed the discussions on extending the government’s voucher program to elementary students and expressed hope that they will be included in the technical working group on the matter.

The Federation of Associations of Private Schools Administrators expressed optimism that the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education will soon include grade school students, noting that this will be a big help for the continued survival of small and medium-sized private schools. 

“We are thankful that finally the political leaders begin to listen to the clamor of private school administrators to extend the blessings of GASTPE to elementary,” said FAPSA President Eleazardo Kasilag. 

Even before the implementation of the K-to-12 program, Kasilag said that FAPSA has been pushing for the inclusion of pre-school and elementary students under the GASTPE. 

Kasilag said that FAPSA’s appeal for subsidy extension then was to help address the congestion problem in the public school system. “We also wanted to assist financially the private school operation since students have exodus to public school’s free education as well as the threat of private school teachers transferring to the public schools for higher pay,” he added. 

Private schools, Kasilag said, have long been suffering from losing teachers to public schools. FAPSA has urged the government to use the resources of private schools instead of “recruiting our private school teachers to teach our transferring students” or building additional classrooms to accommodate the huge population in the public school system which grows every year. 

Kasilag said that through the years, many private schools have shut down due to lack of enrollees and teachers. To help them sustain their operations, FAPSA said that expanding the GASTPE program “could remedy the problem.” 

The GASTPE is provided for by Republic Act (RA) 6728. It was amended by RA 8545 known as the Expanded GASTPE (E-GASTPE) when the K-to-12 law was passed to cover the Senior High School (SHS) program. 

Currently, GASTPE programs include the Education Service Contracting (ESC), the Teachers’ Salary Subsidy (TSS), and SHS Voucher Program (SHS VP). Under the ESC, financial assistance in the form of tuition subsidies is extended to qualified elementary school graduates who wish to pursue Junior High School (JHS) or Grades 7 to 10 in private schools. 

For FAPSA, the elementary level should be included in the GASTPE program especially at a time when private schools are fighting for survival amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Now, the crisis faced by FAPSA schools has become survival,” Kasilag said. “If this remains lip service, we can expect the demise of small private schools and what shall remain are big schools with high fees and the free public schools.”  

Kasilag said  that the voucher program should not be limited to high school students “since around 40 percent of elementary students” have not been able to move up to high school. “By expanding the GASTPE program to elementary students, our enrolment rate would go up, which could add up to our much needed fund to remain operational.”

FAPSA is also volunteering to be a part of the TWG. “Being the group that first exposed this and the one most directly affected, we wish to volunteer for the TWG so we can share direct experience to substantiate the bills.”