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'Increase the education tax'

ROLAND HENRY, Observer staff reporter

Friday, January 06, 2006    

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THE Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) is proposing that government bump up the education tax paid by working Jamaicans to 2.5 per cent of gross taxable income, and has suggested the creation of a 'transformation trust fund' with the proceeds.

Salaried employees currently contribute two per cent of gross pay for education tax, and private sector employers, three per cent.

Between April and November, education tax deductions amounted to $4.6 billion.

"The fund could be further bolstered by a special education transformation bond issue, floated locally as well as throughout the Diaspora," said JTA president Ruel Reid, in a statement ahead of the new school term, which starts Monday.

There were no immediate reactions to Reid's proposal as government ministers and their top technocrats are shuttered in a Cabinet retreat to map programmes and budget priorities for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts April 1.

Reid said the government and private sector must ensure that there is a sustainable pool of funds to jump-start and continue the transformation process - a 10-year plan crafted in 2004 that is projected to cost government $521 billion to implement, requiring an incremental $22 billion on the average $30 billion allocated to then for education in the national budget.

Education this year was allocated $37.9 billion, helped by a $5-billion draw down from the Housing Fund, managed by the National Housing Trust.

But even with the draw down, the government was left with a $14-billion gap in the reform budget.

"While we appreciate the injection of $5 billion from the NHT, this will not be adequate to create the world class education system that all Jamaicans deserve," said Reid.

Education got a near 11 per cent of the total budget of $348 billion, second only to debt servicing, a big ticket item that takes up some 70 per cent.

Reid, who began his presidency last August with the successful lobby for a $500-million revolving education loan fund for JTA members, said yesterday that teachers were anxious to upgrade their qualifications in an effort to ensure that they are technically competent to deliver the quality education that the education transformation plan is aiming for.

More than 17,000 or almost three quarters of the island's complement of teachers are without a first degree.

"We again welcome the establishment of the $500-million revolving loan fund for teachers," Reid said, adding that he hopes the fund will begin operating in April.

Reid also said that the JTA will, this year, start its Master Teacher Programme, an elite grouping of the most skilled instructors, whom he says, "need to be recognised for excellence in the classroom".

The JTA will be pushing this year, he said, for reduced class sizes, and increased productivity among teachers.

- henryr@jamaicaobserver.com

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