WE have heard of the plan of the Department of Education (DepEd), with support from several politicians, to increase the salary of public schoolteachers to P39,000 per month, which adds around P200 billion to the national budget. This plan has quickly gained popularity and sympathy for the public schoolteachers, comparing them to other government employees receiving higher salaries.
The starting salary of public schoolteachers is currently at P19,000 per month, but may total to P23,000 when allowances and benefits are included.
This plan has raised a lot of opposition from the private school sector which on the average pays only about P13,000 per month. But this average represents the average across regions. Like any other private employer, salary rates in the private schools are regionalized. Whereas, the salaries in the public schools are the same across all regions in the country. For example, a private school in Isabela pays its entry-level teachers P8,000 per month which is way below her counterpart in a DepEd school in the same region which pays P23,000 per month.
The plan to raise the salaries of public schoolteachers is seen to create a massive migration or exodus of private schoolteachers into the public school system, which eventually would likely close many private schools.
So how do we end this longstanding debate? Should the government increase the salaries of public schoolteachers? How can there be complementarity between the public and private basic educational system if the government favors the public schoolteachers at the risk of closing down many private schools?
Economic and demographic outlook
As a lawyer for private schools, I join the opposition to the planned increase of public schoolteachers’ salaries. But not without a qualification.
Let us examine the economic and demographic outlook closely.
Out of the 100 million Filipinos, there are about 24 million learners enrolled in the formal basic education sector (9 percent kindergarten, 60percent elementary, and 31 percent secondary). Of this, 87 percent are in the public school system, and only 12.2 percent are in the private schools.
The 2016 DepEd budget is P436.5 billion, around 2.6 percent of GDP.
Since 2010, around 192,000 teachers have joined the public school system, bringing the total number of public school teachers to 692,000 as of 2015, compared to only 177,474 private school teachers.
From the foregoing data, it is clear that the public basic education system and the private education system are two different markets for teachers. And adopting a uniform compensation policy for both is impossible.
Given the higher demand for public school teachers in the public school system, with more student population and teaching positions to fill, there is a need for the government to implement a competitive and attractive compensation package for the public school teachers.
In the public school system, only licensed teachers may be hired. And given the insufficient number of Licensure Examination for Teachers(LET) passers every year, the government has to attract the licensed teachers from the private schools to fill up teaching positions in the public schools.
For instance, the September 2015 LET has yielded only a total of 21,461 newly licensed professional elementary teachers and 34,010 newly licensed professional secondary teachers. And where does the DepEd expect to get their licensed teachers to fill up teacher items? It needs about 30,000 new teachers in SHS high school alone for 2016.
While it is understandable for government to adopt a policy of higher salaries for public school teachers than their private school counterparts, the government should adopt a policy environment in the private school system that allows it to thrive in its own market.
In other words, the government should not forget the complementary role of private education, which necessarily includes the private school teachers, in its mandate of providing accessible and quality basic education for all.
The moral lesson
The biggest moral one can draw from this debate on public school teachers vs. private school teachers’ salary gap, is that it isn’t just about salaries, your honors!
The moral lesson is that not all teaching jobs are alike. Different school environments in public and private schools make for profoundly different work. More private school teachers still find that private schools offer a more rewarding experience than teaching in the public school system. In the public schools, the teacher-student ratio is bigger, and with more shifts. There is also less red tape in the private schools. There are also more serious problems with students in the public schools compared to those in the private schools, e.g. bullying among students, abuse of teachers, parent and student disrespect for teachers, students’ lack of preparation, and student absenteeism. Some teachers still prefer a lesser paying appointment in the private schools than a higher paying item in the public school system.
What our policy-makers fail to realize is this: Yes, teachers care how much they are paid, but they also care what they’re paid to do. I still believe that teachers teach for the love of teaching, not for how much they make.
In conclusion, here is my counter-proposal or recommendation. Let there be higher salaries for licensed teachers in the public schools. But have a complementary policy in the private school system that allows it to thrive under a different market. I refer to giving more freedom to private schools to allow them to recruit and retain their preferred qualified teachers, including those without licenses. Despite the passage of RA 7836, or the Philippine Teachers Professionalization Act of 1994, there are still more teachers in the private schools who are without the required license. But it is not to concede that they are inferior in terms of needed skills and qualification. Because of their years of experience, more private schools actually prefer some of these non-licensed teachers over their newly licensed teachers.
By allowing the private schools to hire non-licensed teachers who have comparable qualifications and experience with their colleagues who are LET passers, it levels the playing field even as the government pays their licensed teachers substantially higher. It provides an atmosphere of “competitive neutrality” between the public and private school system in the recruitment and retention of qualified teachers.
It is also beneficial to teachers who have been teaching for decades, but could not be granted tenure in the private schools because of the license requirement. And they are many. Let the private school system adopt its own standards for recruitment and permanency of teachers and not necessarily be constrained by the prohibitive license requirement. Let the strict license requirement be implemented in the public school system. For private schools, there are far many significant KRAs for a teacher to display and prove than just showing a copy of the license when they are related to the school’s mission and vision. I know my Titas in the PRC Board of Professional Teachers will disagree with me on this, but I know some will secretly agree.
In sum, in the slowly declining teaching profession—to some a dying vocation—adopting a higher salary regime is not always key to encouraging more teachers to join the force. Attract more teachers by allowing them to teach with the freedom of choice between a public and a private educational system—two different, but complementing sectors.
The author is Managing Partner of Estrada & Aquino Law. He is the legal counsel of the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA), the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP), the Philippine Association of Private Schools, Colleges, and Universities (PAPSCU), the Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges, and Universities (PAASCU), and other reputable educational associations and institutions in the country. His views in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the entities he represents.