Good way to implement RTE

| | in Oped

A transparent system of admission which doesn't allow schools to ‘cherry-pick' students, and gives parents the right to choose schools, and streamlining reimbursements, will go a long way in the implementation of Section 12(1)(C)

The landmark Right to Education Act will soon celebrate its fifth anniversary. Of its many important provisions, Section 12(1)(c) has, probably, attracted the most. It states that at least 25 per cent seats in entry-level classes in  non-minority private unaided schools should be reserved for children from weaker sections, to be defined by the respective State Governments.

The State Governments are required to reimburse these schools. The reimbursement amount per student admitted is mandated to be lower than the actual amount charged by the school, or per student recurring expenditure incurred by the State in Government schools. This article focuses on the issues around the methodology adopted by various State Governments (or the lack of it) to calculate recurring costs.

Who will undertake the calculation? There is a lack of clarity on who will calculate the per child recurring expenditure incurred by respective States. Of the 28 States whose rules and notifications were examined, only 12 have stated an intent to set up a committee to assess per child expenditure. Rules and notifications of the rest of the States are silent on this issue.

What about the methodology? None of the States has specified the methodology to determine per child recurring cost, and what items of expenditure or Budget heads would constitute ‘recurring expenditure’. This has led to confusion at ground level as to who is supposed to pay for textbooks, uniforms, teaching material and mid-day meal to children admitted through Section 12(1)(C). The end result, in most instances, has been that the parents have been paying out of their pockets to buy  these items.

Are cost calculations correct? Since methodology of cost calculation is not defined, a natural question that arises is: Are the amounts declared by the Government ‘correct’? Ideally, per student recurring cost declared by the State Governments should cover all recurring items of expenditure, such as teacher and non-teacher salaries, running expenses on administration, entitlements to students (textbooks, uniforms etc) and so on. But, as in the case of Rajasthan, it may not always be the case.

The way forward: Get the methodology right, and in the public domain. State Governments should form a committee of experts — in public finance and education administration with members drawn from inside and outside the current administrative set-up. The committee should develop a robust methodology for cost calculation. The methodology, along with the data required, should be put in the public domain so that there is clarity on which expenditure will get reimbursed, and the calculations can be replicated. Methodology, when in the public domain, will also allow drawbacks to be highlighted, and hopefully corrected.

Reimbursement based on norm instead of actual expenditure: Per student recurring cost is the total recurring cost incurred in Government schools divided by the number of students enrolled in Government schools. An increase in the numerator and/or decrease in the denominator will push these costs up — and that’s the reality in many States. For example, in Rajasthan, absolute enrollment in Government schools has declined from close to 70 lakh in 2010-11 to 64 lakh in 2013-14, while the number of teachers has increased from 2.71 lakh in 2010-11 to 3.26 lakh in 2013-14. On the other hand, per student declared reimbursement amount has increased from Rs9,748 in 2012-13 to Rs14,034 in 2014-15, a whopping 45 per cent increase in three years. Additionally, data on actual expenditure is available with a considerable lag. Actual expenditure is contingent on fiscal health of the States and its administrative capacity.

Given the possibilities of wide fluctuations in actual expenditure, norm-based per child reimbursement seems more desirable. To explain, the State Governments can easily compute average salary expenditure per teacher. As per the RTE Act, there should be one teacher for 30 students in the primary sections. From this, one can easily compute per student average salary expenditure as ‘recommended’ by the RTE Act.

In 2013-14, as per Government data, there is one teacher for slightly less than 30 students. Further, unit costs have already been specified for various entitlements such as mid-day meal, uniforms, textbooks etc, either at the State or Central level. Adding these up, gives us  ‘norm-based’ reimbursement.

These measures, along with a transparent and objective system of admissions which doesn’t allow schools to ‘cherry-pick’ students, and give parents freedom to choose schools, ensuring that the students admitted through Section 12(1)(C) receive quality education without discrimination, providing academic and ‘non-academic’ support to these students and their parents, and streamlining reimbursements will go a long way in successful implementation of Section 12(1)(C).

(The writer is a Senior Researcher at Accountability Initiative and Fellow at Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi)



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