Minister won’t bail out schools

Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said earlier this month that he would not seek to increase government subsidies to certain local private schools just because some of the smaller schools may be struggling financially.

Mr. Bush

Mr. Bush

The minister’s comments came during a finance committee debate in Legislative Assembly earlier this month. He was responding to comments made by Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, who said it appeared larger private schools were getting a lion’s share of the $2 million yearly subsidy to the Private School Association.

Mr. McLaughlin said funding for those private schools, which are considered non-profit organisations, is doled out according to a formula which ensures the schools get a roughly equal percentage of government money.

Two other schools, which he said could not be described as not-for-profit, are offered government scholarship opportunities.

The minister also noted that the annual private schools subsidy had been increased from $900,000 to $2 million within the past year. Part of that money goes to the schools’ operational expenses and part is set aside for teaching and learning activities.

‘Government has to be careful, lest we be charged with elitism,’ Mr. McLaughlin said. ‘The smaller the school is, the more difficult it is to justify large sums of money going there.’

Minister McLaughlin said one of his sons attends a smaller private school. But he questioned whether government funds should be used simply ‘to prop up a school with 120 students.’

‘I cannot see a basis to increase the support…to the school I have in mind,’ he said.

In the Cayman Islands, only Caymanian children are allowed to attend public school. Children of non-Caymanians must attend private school to get their education.

Mr. Bush said the islands’ government has helped private schools, particularly religious-based schools in the past with one-time funding and other subsidies to help see them through difficult times.

‘I don’t believe this is any elite policy,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘If one or two children can get ahead in life because they did have to endure other things…I would not stop it.’

Mr. McLaughlin said he was not unaware of the funding problems that some private schools in Cayman face, which is why his ministry agreed to more than double the government subsidy for those entities.

‘I am one of the parents paying this (private school) fee, so don’t think I’m not sympathetic,’ he said. ‘But it is wrong for us to make a special arrangement…for one school with 120 students.’

The decision to increase the subsidy to private schools last year came with some strings attached. Under the revised Education Law, those schools are required to be inspected in the same manner as public schools.

Previously, private schools would only be inspected if they volunteered to do so.

Opposition MLA Cline Glidden Jr. asked whether government was satisfied that all schools were completing audit reports before receiving subsidies. Minister McLaughlin said that had been agreed to by the Private Schools Association.