Lawmakers on Tuesday, September 15, sought an additional P10 billion in the proposed 2021 budget for the Department of Education (DepEd) to fund the printing of self-learning modules (SLMs) needed for the country's shift to distance learning.
During the House deliberations on the DepEd's proposed 2021 budget, Agusan del Norte 1st District Representative Lawrence Fortun raised concerns over the funding source of the agency for the printing of SLMs, as teachers have had to solicit bond paper on their own.
Education Undersecretary Anne Sevilla said that according to DepEd estimates, P35 billion is needed for the printing of SLMs for millions of public school students, but only P15 billion has been allocated under the proposed budget.
Sevilla said P5 billion will come from unprogrammed funds, while the rest will be sourced from the Special Education Fund (SEF) and Brigada Eskwela.
The SEF, which arises from tax collected by the local government unit, provides the source of funds for the supplementary annual budgetary needs for the operation and maintenance of public schools within the province, city, or municipality.
Meanwhile, Brigada Eskwela is DepEd's annual public school repair volunteer program held before the official start of the school year, where teachers can also seek donations for school materials.
Fortun, however, said depending on the SEF and Brigada Eskwela is "worrisome" because of the "uncertainty" of the two as funding sources for the printing of SLMs.
"For one, LGUs (local government units) are not similarly situated.... There are provinces and cities that are capable, and there are not [capable]. As you said earlier, Brigada Eskwela is voluntary... We need assurance kung saan kukuhanin ito (where we will source this)," Fortun said.
Fortun proposed that an additional P10-billion budget be included in the 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA) to assure DepEd of a funding source.
"We can actually push that the P10 billion be provided for in the GAA 2021 instead of DepEd [scampering] for other sources. Ang siguro mahalaga ay i-provide na sa ating GAA (It's important to provide that in our GAA)," Fortun said.
Sevilla said that DepEd would welcome this move because the SEF and Brigada Eswkwela are only supplemental budgets.
"We concur because as I've said these are only supplemental budgets. But the main source should be GAA so we have an assurance that it will be provided," Sevilla added.
Bohol 1st District Representative Edgar Chatto agreed with the proposal to add P10 billion to DepEd's proposed budget as "SEF cannot be relied upon to fill in the gap as far as learning materials are concerned."
"What is very necessary is really to add to the budget of the DepEd," Chatto said.
Sevilla said with an additional P10 billion in their budget, DepEd would no longer have to rely on the SEF and Brigada Eskwela to fund the distance learning materials.
Modular learning is the "backbone" of the DepEd's distance learning. Other modes of learning such as online as well as TV and radio broadcasts would supplement the modules. (READ: Is it safe? Teachers fear exposure to coronavirus in modular learning setup)
The printing of modules was supposedly the reason why this year's school opening was postponed for a second time. There had been reports that some teachers didn't have copies of the modules weeks before the original date of the school opening on August 24.
DepEd earlier said insufficient supplies and budget for the purchase of bond paper contributed to the delay in the printing of learning materials.
The government has allocated P606.5 billion of its proposed P4.5-trillion budget for 2021 to DepEd. (READ: Proposed P4.5-trillion 2021 budget goes to Congress)
While the education sector is set to receive the lion's share of funds, several groups believe the amount is still not enough to cover the needs of the education sector under an overhauled education system. (READ: [ANALYSIS] Why you should be alarmed by Duterte’s 2021 budget)
As of Tuesday, a total of 22,321,903 public school students have signed up for the school opening on October 5. – Rappler.com