Private education sector in ‘critical state’ as enrollment plunges 66% amid pandemic

As it continues to bear the brunt of the pandemic, the country’s private education is now in a “critical state” especially with the steady decrease in enrollment in the past two years.

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“As we start a new school year, the private education sector is in critical state,” private school associations said in a joint statement.

Based on Quick Count data of the Department of Education (DepEd) as of Sept. 13, enrollment in private schools in basic education for School Year (SY) 2021- 2022 is only at “1.443 million, down 57 percent percent from 3.376 million in SY 20-21, and down 66 percent from 4.305 million in SY 19-20 before the pandemic.”

Among the signatories in the statement include Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA) managing director Joseph Noel Estrada and COCOPEA chairman and president of Philippine Association of Colleges and Universities (PACU) Dr. Anthony Jose Tamayo.

“Most private schools won’t be expecting a substantial increase on these numbers from late enrollees, as classes in public schools also begin and many private school students were expected to transfer,” they said.

A survey by COCOPEA - which was participated in by over 250 member schools - found that more than 80 percent of respondents reported that the “economic difficulties of students and their families, and the resulting migration to public schools, state and local universities and colleges are the main drivers of the enrollment declines.”

To cope with the steep decline in enrollment, 71 percent of respondent schools are considering the implementation of a “no work, no pay” scheme while and 64 percent are considering the “retrenchment of employees to remain afloat.”

“In addition, 55 percent in the survey are considering the closure of their schools,” they said. These closures, the survey added, would be in addition to the “865 private schools that suspended their operations last school year” as reported by DepEd.

Act now

In the face of new reports that basic education enrollment in private schools plunged 66 percent from pre-pandemic levels, private school associations urged the Senate to expedite the approval of a bill that aims to rectify a Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) regulation imposing a 150-percent increase in taxes.

In the joint statement, private schools urged Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chairperson Senator Pia Cayetano and other senators to “expedite the passage” of Senate Bill 2272 introduced by Senator Sonny Angara, which amends Section 27(B) of the National Internal Revenue Code (NIRC) of 1997.

This, the groups said, will “rectify with finality the flawed interpretation” of a provision under the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act (CREATE Act) by the BIR’s Revenue Regulation 5-2021.

The BIR RR 5-2021 imposes a 150-percent increase in the corporate income of private educational institutions and deprives them of the much-needed tax relief intended by the authors of CREATE in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The groups said that applying the CREATE rate of one percent until 2023 would allow “these schools to save an equivalent of 3.43 percent of compensation expenses, which could help them rehire at least 12,996 teachers at the start of this school year.”

The private education sector, the groups said, has initiated all possible measures for the continuity of school operations to survive this health and economic crisis. However, they noted that “severe disruptions of the pandemic” require the government’s intervention to help many private schools affected by the very low enrollment.

“It is amidst these dire circumstances, and the country’s ongoing learning crisis, that we renew our appeal for the immediate passage of this most important legislative intervention, SB 2272, so that our member educational institutions can give full focus to delivering quality education for our learners, who we must develop to be the future leaders and workforce of our country,” the private school associations said.

They added that the country’s human capital depends on the quality of education the learners receive from both public and private educational institutions.

”This is a complementary role that must be strengthened and will prove critical for recovering from the pandemic, and sustaining Philippine economic growth and global competitiveness,” they said.