KZN Education Budget – more of the same

By: Mbali Ntuli, MPL DA KZN Spokesperson on Education Today as we debate the Education budget most will no doubt be pleased that it has increased. More money we will say, for more to be done. Regrettably this will not be the case because one of the first things that we notice is the R31million charge – money we will lose from the budget immediately due to previously unauthorised expenditure. The question is – who will be held accountable for this unlawful spending which has cost the province so much? The DA believes that the fiscal objectives for the 2015 Education budget process should be aimed at; * Promoting allocative efficiency: achieving an allocation of resources that reflects the priorities of government * Value for money: providing public services in a way that reduces costs of providing goods and services while maintaining quality, producing more with less and achieving results * Fiscal sustainability: maintaining stability in key programmes and managing risks in a constrained economic and fiscal environment. Sadly it would seem that despite more money in the Education department none of these fiscal objectives are likely to be met because this budget is structured to do more of the same rather than radically transform the department and its service delivery. Put simply, this means more money but with less results. A closer look at the budget makes it evident that it is not completely aligned to the performance plan that the Education department claims to be their guiding document. A quick look shows that programmes like LTSM which has been so hamstrung financially receives a measly 5% increase. Is this a priority or not? There is no indication that this budget will be used to effectively achieve a better educated citizenry. Teacher development, learner transport, the school nutrition programme, competent employees, logistical system controls, effective administration – all of the most important things that the Education department needs to get right immediately – are negligibly allocated for in this budget. These are seemingly priorities for the department but they have not been prioritised in this budget. The DA welcomes the following allocations within the budget; * We welcome the fact that the lion’s share will be received by ordinary public schools and we will monitor its expenditure closely * We also welcome the FET and Adult learning programme being moved to the department of Higher Education * We cautiously welcome the merging of the Dinaledi and Technical school recap grant. Hopefully this will allow for the programme to significantly improve performance and increase participation in Mathematics, Life Sciences and Physical Sciences has been changed to a new grant. Now for the problems – the immediate challenge that we are faced with is a bigger budget, while knowing that money is often mishandled by this department. So, the pot from which to steal just got bigger. There also seems to be no correlation between the increased budget and how it will be used to better the standards of Education in KZN. This is because there is no accountability in this province. The lack of accountability is the single biggest obstacle to cleaning up the financial mess within the DoE. An obscene R44 million has been spent on forensic investigations in this department alone. This is a huge indication of just how much trouble we are in. Hundreds of cases of fraud, theft, corruption have been found but all these finding have amounted to nought. How then can we truly celebrate the growth in budget knowing full well that the symptoms of the problems will remain? It is an indictment on the leadership of this department that, despite the DA’s request for the report on the Commission set up by MEC Nkonyeni, it has yet to be tabled. This report is now grossly overdue. This situation is indicative of how money gets spent in Education – on the things that yield no benefit to the students it should empower. Need we be reminded that the DoE’s finances were so bad that funding had to be diverted from infrastructure to compensation of employees, necessitating the launch of the Commission by the MEC? At the time, the DA hoped that it would not simply be another Commission that the ANC was paying lip service to and that, for once, there would be some action. Yet here we are today and surprise, surprise there is no report, no accountability and no hope that this budget, despite its increase will even matter because it will go down the same hole as previous years. The single biggest amount of money within the KZN Education budget goes to paying people – many of the same people we spent R44million on and found guilty in hundreds of cases of fraud, corruption and mismanagement of money. Yet there are many more that remain employed at the cost of investing in education infrastructure projects, learner transport, or school nutrition programmes that would actually be for the learners we are meant to serve. And here I must caution the ANC on the matter of wage agreements. If the figure settled on between the unions goes beyond the allocation in this budget then we will not be able to afford the increase. This will no doubt lead to teachers striking, inevitably affecting teaching time with our learners suffering the consequences. The department’s main goals are by their own admission are to; * Increase access to education and provide resources * Provide infrastructure, financial, human and technological resources * Implement teaching, management and governance support programmes at all schools * Improve school functionality * Increase learner attainment in all subjects and grades * Administer effective and efficient examination and assessment services * Ensure good corporate governance, management and an efficient administration This budget has not catered adequately to meet those goals and there seems to be no strategic direction as to how it will truly address these problems. The DA has not only been attaining these goals, we have added new ways to improve the standard of Education where we govern. Where we govern we have been able to respond to the challenges of low growth, difficult socio-economic challenges of parents and have improved Education outcomes and opportunities. We have done this by budgeting and focusing on: * A five year teacher development plan including pre-service and in-service training and incentives * Provincial curriculum management strategies with a specific focus on Language and Mathematics Development Strategies and plans for increased access to vocational subjects * Social support and a platform for youth development: the school nutrition programme, fee relief and safe schools * Support for independent schools that educate those from poorer communities * Quality Grade R with the emphasis on both improving access to a growing population of pre-schoolers and quality of learning. Our effective infrastructure programme has been budgeted to create an inspiring environment, the focus of which is building new schools and classrooms as required and replacing schools made of inappropriate materials. The proportion of the budget to be spent on maintenance and infrastructure alone by the DA is indicative of how seriously we take our role to improve learning conditions. Our e-learning program which has a budget of R698million will expose learners and educators to different teaching methods and materials and will be in 610 schools over the next five years. A massive 3 350 classrooms across 248 schools will benefit from the Smart Classroom Project over the same period and 500 of the Western Cape’s poorest schools will receive refreshed computer labs. Our budget for school nutrition is R447million over the term and will feed all students twice a day. This includes nutrition for participant learners and infrastructure to support the after school programme. Where the DA governs, the allocation towards new and replacement schools is just over R915million this financial year. We have set a target and next year we will report it has been achieved. Schools’ maintenance is a top priority, with many of our poorer schools unable to keep up with maintenance and repairs. A total of R338million will be allocated towards this. We currently assist 50 000 learners from rural areas in getting to school and our learner transport system has over R270million dedicated to it. Admittedly KZN faces bigger challenges than the Western Cape when it comes to school numbers and geography. But I list what the DA-governed Education department has been able to achieve because it shows that when money is budgeted on the right things in order to improve education results, it actually does. What the DA government has been able to do in a shorter time period of governance shows what can be achieved if leadership is willing to hold those who are incompetent to account and to spend budgets in a way that is aligned to produce real results. 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