Concerns in the Eastern Cape education budget

PSAM education researcher, Siyabulela Fobosi, has released his budget analysis for the Eastern Cape Education department 2018. Here he outlines some of the key concerns in the province’s budget for education.

What is of concern is that the planning and budgeting of R57 billion for fee-free higher education comes with the baseline reduction to the basic education budget. For example, Programme 6 (Infrastructure Development) of the ECDoE decreased by 10%, in nominal terms, from R1.7 billion in 2017/18 to R1.5 billion in 2018/19. In real terms, the allocation to this Programme decreased by 13% to R1.4 billion.  The reason for this decline is due to the reduction in the funding for two conditional grants, namely Education Infrastructure Grant and Maths Science and Technology Grant. This reduction will delay the completion of currently existing infrastructure projects such as hostels, special schools and Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centres.

The reduction in budget for infrastructure is concerning, considering the interdependence of the basic and higher education sectors. One would expect government to ensure massive investment in basic education, so that learners progress well to the higher education. The high fees in universities are not the only reason why many of the learners from the poor schools cannot access higher education. It is also due to the inequalities in the early years of schooling. It remains a challenge for most learners in South Africa, to pass matric well and obtain a qualification in higher education, especially in the context where learners are repeating Grade 3 and 4.

The lack of adequate appropriate infrastructure in schools does adversely impacts on progress towards ensuring equitable access to education and resources. It is particularly disconcerting to note the reductions to important programmes such as the Infrastructure Development which will undoubtedly result in the delay of school infrastructure projects in a province already showing high rates of under-delivery. This reduction is unfavorable for the progressive realisation of the rights of learners to quality basic education. In order to ensure that the budget allocated for infrastructure delivery, the Department must improve the management and monitoring of expenditure. It is high time that the ECDoE, assisted by the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature, addresses failures in school infrastructure provisioning.  Given the funding constraint and overriding economic context – it is imperative for the ECDoE to ensure the efficient, prudent utilisation of limited resources to ensure optimal delivery of a range of education services.

Given the funding constraint and overriding economic context – it is imperative for the ECDoE to ensure the efficient, prudent utilisation of limited resources to ensure optimal delivery of a range of education services.

Towards equality in school funding

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(Photo courtesy of Equal Education)

Apartheid’s legacy of skewed resource distribution continues to impede the realisation of the right to basic education. By the mid-1960s, the apartheid government was spending, on conservative estimates, ten times more on white learners than on black learners. Redressing this injustice is a moral, socio-economic and constitutional imperative.

In this article – the first in a series on public school funding – we outline the constitutional framework that must inform education spending and resource distribution in South Africa.

Right to basic education is immediately realisable

The right to basic education guaranteed in section 29 of the Constitution is different from other socio-economic rights. The state’s duty to realise rights such as housing, social security and health-care may be achieved progressively over time and within available resources.

By contrast, Justice Bess Nkabinde of the Constitutional Court, in a landmark judgment, explained:

“Unlike some of the other socio-economic rights, this right [to basic education] is immediately realisable. There is no internal limitation requiring that the right be ‘progressively realised’ within ‘available resources’ subject to ‘reasonable legislative measures’.”

This means that the Constitution recognises that education is a public good that must be made accessible to everyone immediately: to every learner, without exception. This shows the fundamental importance that the Constitution places on education, which must be given priority in the policies, plans and budgets of government. Education funding models must therefore be based on the target of immediately ensuring that all learners access the right to basic education.

Substantive equality and redress

Substantive equality is a fundamental constitutional value and right. Unlike merely formal equality, which requires treating everyone exactly the same, the Constitution recognises historical imbalances and the need to eradicate systemic discrimination against certain groups. Substantive equality requires that the state provide redress for past disadvantage so that everyone is in a position to equally enjoy all their rights, including education. This is key to to the transformative agenda of the Constitution.

Recently retired Justice Dikgang Moseneke explained in a 2004 judgement that “[a]bsent a positive commitment progressively to eradicate socially constructed barriers to equality and to root out systematic or institutionalised under-privilege, the constitutional promise of equality before the law and its equal protection and benefit must, in the context of our country, ring hollow.”

Section 29 has been specifically interpreted by our courts to impose an obligation on the State to not only provide education but to also simultaneously redress past imbalances caused by the racially discriminatory laws and practices of the colonial and apartheid eras.

Constitution guarantees access to quality education

The Constitutional Court has said that “education is the engine of any society”. It is the main way in which economically and socially marginalised adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and obtain the means to participate fully in their communities.

The right to a basic education provides a way to realise the dignity, equality and freedom of every person. For this to happen, education must be of adequate quality.

A rights-based approach to public school funding

What are the implications of these constitutional principles and rights for funding public schools? At a minimum:

  • The state must prioritise education funding as basic education is an immediately accessible public good.
  • Access to education alone is not sufficient. Substantive equality requires that access to quality education is equalised: no person or group of people should receive a vastly inferior education to anyone else.
  • A progressive funding model is required that lifts the standards of disadvantaged schools up to the levels of resource expenditure (inputs) and quality of learning (outputs) of historically advantaged schools.

The South African Schools Act recognises the need to “provide an education of progressively high quality . . . [and] uphold the rights of all learners”.  It requires the state to “fund public schools from public revenue on an equitable basis in order to ensure the proper exercise of the rights of learners to education and the redress of past inequalities in education provision”.

However, while the legislation is laudable for its recognition of the constitutional goal, the mechanics of education funding are not achieving these aims.

In the next articles in this series, we analyse how basic education is funded in South Africa. Beginning with the distribution of funds among the provinces, and then looking at personnel and non-personnel spending, we will explore various shortcomings in the existing model while highlighting what opportunities there are for achieving greater quality and equality in our public schools.

What the Constitution requires How this impacts the budget process
Priority Basic education must be accessible to all immediately. Basic education must be treated as a priority in government budgeting processes.
Quality The right to basic education is a right to an education of adequate quality. Resources must be invested by the state into the basic education system that are sufficient to achieve adequate quality.
Equality Education of an adequate quality must be made available and accessible to all. Among others:

  • no-one may be denied access to education on the basis of their inability to pay fees;
  • all schools must have access to the resources necessary to provide a quality, basic education;
  • schools that were underfunded in the past must receive relatively more resources from the state than schools that were well funded during apartheid.

Nurina Ally is the Executive Director of the Equal Education Law Centre. Daniel McLaren is a Senior Researcher at the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute.


Published originally on GroundUp .