A party-list lawmaker is opposing the government subsidy to middle-class students, saying that the subsidy deprives the 4.3 million poor, high school-aged children of free high school education.
Rep. Antonio Tinio of Alliance of Concerned Teachers party-list expressed such sentiments in light of the announcement made by Secretary Armin Luistro of the Department of Education (DepEd) that the government will expand the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education or Gastpe.
Per Luistro, the state will expand the Gastpe program to encourage private schools to put up Senior High Schools (SHS) to accommodate up to 40 percent of a projected one million incoming SHS students by 2016—a consequence of the K-12 program which adds two more years in basic education.
Under the Education Services Contracting scheme of Gastpe, a tuition subsidy will be provided by the government to students who cannot be accommodated in public high schools. The grantees in participating private schools in the National Capital Region are entitled a subsidy of P10,000, while those in the rest of the country receive P6,500. Gastpe funds are jointly managed by the Deped and the Fund for Assistance to Private Education.
“The massive expansion of Gastpe indicates that government is heading towards a high school education system such as the new Senior High School component of K-12, which is extensively privatized. Is this consistent with the government’s constitutional mandate to establish and maintain a system of free high school education?” Tinio pointed out.
Tinio cited that the funding for Gastpe in 2013 has increased to P7 billion for one million grantees—a sprint from a P758.6 million allocation for 250,000 grantees in 2003.
“Since Gastpe only provides a partial tuition subsidy, the vast majority of grantees are students from lower-middle class families who can afford to pay the remaining tuition as well as the other costs of private high school education. In short, Gastpe is a government subsidy for the middle class rather than the poor,” Tinio pointed out.
“Given the magnitude of the allocation, the question of whether it is an equitable use of scarce government resources must be asked, considering that up to 80 percent of all private high schools depend on Gastpe to remain viable,” Tinio added.
Luistro has argued that Gastpe is intended to democratize access to quality education across the country, but Tinio sees the program as an enforcer of existing inequalities since Gastpe subsidizes students who can afford the privilege and enjoy the advantages of a private school education.
At P7 billion, Tinio explained that Gastpe is already one of the single biggest programs of the Deped.
“Assistance to private schools through Gastpe has a Constitutional and legal basis, but the primordial responsibility of government is to provide free, quality education, especially to the poor,” Tinio said.