Gov't mulling needs-based funding for public schools — Williams
Minister of Education and Youth, Fayval Williams

The Government is giving thought to funding schools based on the unique needs of each institution, instead of the number of students enrolled.

"I know persons have been calling for us to look at differential funding, meaning take a look at the school and they may need to get additional funding relative to that school in Kingston that may not have that same need; and there is something to be considered there. In fact, the Jamaica Education Transformation Commission report, in it, they talk about us moving to that model as well," said Minster of Education Fayval Williams.

She was speaking with the Jamaica Observer on the sidelines of Thursday's Ananda Alert forum at the Altamont Court Hotel in Kingston to commemorate International Missing Children's Day.

There has long been concern that the current approach of allocating funds on a per student basis puts some schools at a disadvantage because the challenges they face are greater than those confronting others. The point has also been made that some schools receive support from active alumni associations and providing them with the same financial support as educational institutions that do not have this cushion is not a fair allocation of resources.

The minister did not indicate if there is a timeline was being worked towards a final decision. However, she stressed that if the change is implemented it will be costly.

"As a country we operate on a budget. Additionally, resources will have to come from some place if we are to give schools more.

"We wake up every day trying to do the best with the budget that we have, but we are open to having those conversations [and] consultations, because just because the formula is the way it is right now doesn't mean it cannot be changed. But it takes a process to get it changed, to get people used to differential funding. How does it work? What does it mean? What does it mean for my school? All of those questions. And so, I think that's going to make a healthy discussion when we start the rounds," she detailed.

When asked to weigh in on the issue, Linvern Wright of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools, suggested a hybrid approach. He would like to see a standard amount of funding provided, calculated based on needs that are common across the board plus additional resources based on the needs of individual schools.

"I am wary of it because it sounds good that you will be funding schools according to needs, but I still believe a per capita amount makes sense because of some basic things that a school wants. You have your maintenance for the year; you have paper things, computer things, maintenance of the Internet…," Wright explained in a telephone interview Friday morning.

"Then there are schools that need enhancement projects. Let's say some schools don't have a lab. What the real problem is, is that we have not been giving schools [funding] to maintain labs. So we haven't maintained our technology labs; we haven't equipped our science labs; we haven't looked at our computer labs in a consistent manner of maintaining resources in those areas," the principal further argued.

Wright stressed that in any attempt to level the playing field, care must be taken not to penalise schools whose students have traditionally done well.

"For example, let's take Campion College versus a Troja High or a Greater Portmore High. I don't believe because Campion students are very brilliant they necessarily need less money. Because you could do a funding model like that and Campion doesn't get enough because the children may be in accelerated programme that you also need to fund," he said.

Wright continued: "But let's say you go to a Bridgeport High; we have a significant number of children who need some support for literacy. So you would have funding for an accelerated programme for the brilliant students at, say, Wolmer's and Campion, but you also now will fund a revision programme for the people at Bridgeport just the same. So you might need the money for both of them, but just for different purposes."

He cautioned that not many schools have the capacity to raise funds outside of the ministry's subvention.

"I put it to you that there are no more than 10 to 30 schools in Jamaica that can get adequate funding outside of the Ministry of Education. That comes with the parents' capacity to assist. All you hearing people talking, it is mostly parents and past students that [fund their schools]. These past students are usually business people in society," he maintained.

BY ONEIL MADDEN Observer writer

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