Questions were raised during a Finance Committee hearing on the country’s education budget about whether policies that prevent the children of foreign workers from accessing free schooling in the public education system were incompatible with the Bill of Rights.
“We need to look into this. I don’t know if we are not walking close to the line,” said East End legislator Arden McLean.
Education Minister Tara Rivers said it was a “fallacy” that expat children were not allowed to attend government schools. She said there was a limited amount of space available in the public school system and places were allocated to Caymanian children first.
“There is no policy that disallows non-Caymanian children. There is a hierarchy in terms of who can access spaces first.”
She acknowledged that there were few spaces available for expat children, but said the policy was in line with the Bill of Rights.
The Constitution states: “Government shall seek reasonably to achieve the progressive realization within available resources of providing every child with primary and secondary education which shall, subject to sub section (3), be free.”
Ms. Rivers said, “Our resources are the number of schools currently in place, so it was a policy decision taken to ensure that the resources are allocated according to some formula that meets the needs of the community.”
The Human Rights Commission, in response to questions from the Cayman Compass on the same issue in 2014, said there was “no evidence to support the claim that the Cayman Islands Government exercises a policy of not allowing children of expatriates to go to government schools.”
The commission based its decision on information from education officials stating that 10 percent of children in government schools were non-Caymanian and that government made a grant of around $550 per student to private schools in the country.
Legislators on Friday voted to maintain a $1.53 million subsidy to support private schools.
Mr. McLean said he accepted that the Ministry of Education had the right to refuse places in schools based on availability. But he said he believed a policy of requiring foreign workers to register their child with a private school before a work permit would be granted amounted to a denial of right to free education, contrary to the Bill of Rights.
“It sends the message at immigration that a dependent child of someone on work permit must go to private school and that, I submit, is wrong,” he said.
Ms. Rivers acknowledged that government needs to look into the future provision of school places across the islands as the country’s population continues to grow.
“I think, as a country, we need to make sure we have available resources to meet the needs of our children and whether we do so through public schools, through private schools, through partnerships between public and private schools – these are the types of conversations we need to consider.”
The issue of a de-facto segregation of expat and local students was raised by former Chamber of Commerce president Johann Moxam at the Cayman Economic Outlook forum in 2014. Mr. Moxam said, “I think the country has suffered as a result of that.
“It starts when you encourage the segregation of the local kid from the expatriate kid and then you intend to build the country up as ‘we’re one, we’re Caymanians, we’re together.’ It’s silly.”