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P1.4-B budget cut in SHS voucher program may affect 60K students —Gatchalian

Over 60,000 students may bear the brunt of the P1.4-billion cut in the Department of Education's budget for its senior high school voucher program in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian saidThursday.

The senator raised this concern after Education Undersecretary Annalyn Sevilla bared in a Senate hearing that a total of P8.2 billion from the DepEd's 2019 and 2020 budget has been realigned to the government's war chest to address the COVID-19 crisis, pursuant to the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

Gatchalian said both the students and private schools are at the losing end.

"Based sa computation namin, the P1.4-billion cut in the senior high school program will eventually cut 60,000 students in terms of beneficiaries. Ang aking worry, maraming estudyante ang hindi makakapag-aral," he said.

"With the budget cuts, the private schools will have to subsidize the cost of teaching the student. Eh may gastos din sila eh. I'm sure they are developing their own modules, their own system," he added.

"We don't want dropouts and unemployment in the education sector. This is where the government should extend assistance to private schools," Gatchalian further said.

Sevilla said the DepEd is currently finding ways to fund the voucher program through its Learning Continuity Plan.

"Kahit po binawasan kami ay ibabalik po namin 'yan under the learning continuity plan," she said.

The lion's share of the slashed DepEd fund, however, was from the Last Mile Schools Program at P5 billion.

Also included in the budget cuts were P500 million from the school-based feeding program, P107 million from the special education program, and P102 million from its computerization program.

Sevilla said the DepEd already appealed to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to stop cutting its funds.

"Right after the announcement of the President that he is supporting our delivery modes and learning continuity plan, the Secretary also wrote the DBM that we are requesting for no more reduction," she said.

"Instead, we are now recalibrating our budget because we need funding," she added.

Despite initial apprehensions on opening the classes in the absence of a COVID-19 vaccine, President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to "scrape the bottom of the barrel" to fund the alternative forms of learning being proposed by the DepEd.

As of June 11, the DepEd has reached over 36% of its projected enrollment rate, with nearly 10 million public and private school students signing up for the school year 2020-2021. — BM, GMA News