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Ghost students feared as P20-B peso fund lacks monitoring

(Second of two parts) GMA News Research examines one of the biggest programs under the DepEd’s budget a year before the government rolls out Senior High School (SHS) – and, consequentially, more funds – for the implementation of the K-to-12 curriculum.

Half of the country’s private high schools participate in the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (GASTPE) program of DepEd. 

Last year, 2,768 out of the 5,432 private high schools all over the country were accredited under the education service contracting (ESC) component of GASTPE. 
Some of the ESC-accredited private schools were almost entirely dependent on GASTPE for their continued operation. These GASTPE-dependent schools took in more ESC grantees than non-ESC grantees; in effect, these schools were already assured that DepEd would subsidize the tuition of more than half of their student population.
This is the case in Metro Manila, which has the worst classroom shortage at the high school level among the regions.
There were 225 ESC-participant private schools in the Metro last year. Seventy percent (158) of these schools had more ESC-grantees among their enrollees than non-ESC students.
Majority of the 61,436 ESC grantees in Metro Manila last year were enrolled in schools that were largely dependent on GATSPE funds.

Has the DepEd considered the possibility that new schools will be put up just to receive and operate solely on GASTPE funding?
DepEd undersecretary for finance and administration Francisco Varela says it would be very difficult for them to get through the stringent accreditation process of the Private Education Assistance Committee (PEAC). But ideally, he said, the department would like to see ESC-certified schools able to attract students outside the GASTPE program.
ESC-certified schools are subjected to monitoring by DepEd and/or PEAC.
“Ghost” students
A study conducted by the Civil Society Network for Education Reforms (E-Net Philippines) in 2012 observed that the monitoring of GASTPE is weak, leaving DepEd at the mercy of school administrators.

E-Net Philippines National Coordinator Addie Unsi said the monitoring system for the ESC component of GASTPE was weakest at the school level. 

“Di na natin alam kung paano nila ginagamit iyong pondo, at ilan iyong studyanteng nagpapatuloy…. Di po natin sinasabing merong mga ghost students na kasama pa rin sa ESC, pero posible po iyon dahil di namo-monitor ng program,” Unsi says.
(“We do not know how they use the funds, or how many students went through the program… We’re not saying there are actual instances of ‘ghost students’ who are still listed as ESC grantees, but there is the possibility of that happening because the program is not being monitored.”)

Varela said PEAC on its own or in coordination with DepEd conducted unannounced school visits just to make sure that they could guard against the inclusion of non-existent GASTPE beneficiaries.
He admitted that the DepEd did catch some schools padding their list of grantees, but that there were only a few such cases from among the close to 3,000 ESC-certified schools.
“We would be talking about, in a year, in the area of 10 or thereabouts,” Varela said.
“So that's why we are confident in saying that the program is really working well. Nevertheless, the policy of DepEd still is that we can't tolerate these things.… If you're discovered once, that's it. You're removed from the program,” the undersecretary added.
GASTPE beneficiary schools are required to submit reports to the Private Education Assistance Committee (PEAC) every year. These reports contain the schools’ enrollment, including specific names of the grantees in all of the year levels.
Varela said DepEd and PEAC conducted school visits and field audits to verify the schools’ reports.  
According to DepEd’s latest GASTPE guidelines, schools may risk losing their ESC-accreditation if DepEd and PEAC’ secretariat discovered any of the following during a field audit: a significant number of the school’s ESC grantees are absent and their existence cannot be satisfactorily explained and supported by school officials.
ESC grantees billed under a specific school are found to be actually attending classes in a different school “enrolled” ESC grantees who have not been attending classes since the opening of classes
grantees double-listed under the ESC program.

E-Net Philippines’ study, based on interviews with DepEd staff in 2012, found that some DepEd representatives claimed having very little involvement in the program or having no involvement at all in the monitoring because their participation was not required to begin with.
According to Varela, “the audit that's being done by DepEd is supplemental to the work being done by PEAC. So it is not regularly done because the role to perform this performance and compliance audits really belongs to the PEAC.”
While the DepEd puts faith in the audits supposedly conducted by PEAC on the participating private schools, the organization itself is mostly composed of representatives of private school associations such as the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines, the Association of Christian Schools and Colleges, and the Philippine Association of Colleges and Universities.
GMA News Research requested statistics on ESC grantees and schools as well as monitoring data from PEAC for this article. The committee gave statistics on ESC grantees and schools, including completion rates, but it says it cannot as yet provide any available data related to the monitoring of the ESC's participant schools.

Unsi expressed concern that the monitoring of the GASTPE program was not as transparent as it should be, given its use of billions of pesos in public funds.
“Ang sa amin ay ayusin ang implementasyon nito, palakasin ang monitoring at ayusin ang targeting ng programa. Palakasin pa iyong transparency and accountability mechanism,” Unsi said.
(“What we’re saying is that the implementation should be more efficient, the monitoring should be strengthened, and the targeting of program beneficiaries should be calibrated. Transparency and accountability mechanisms should be strengthened.”)
USec. Varela acknowledges that DepEd must always be on guard.
“I think that for programs like this—large programs where you benefit hundreds or thousands of beneficiaries, there will always be that susceptibility, and government has to put in place the mechanisms that will minimize if not prevent these problems,” Varela said.
“But you cannot refrain from implementing the program because there is that susceptibility,” he added. -NB/JJ GMA News

Part I: 
COA scores lack of transparency in billion-peso high school fund 
Tags: gastpe, coa