Government was urged to consider stopping funding for private schools or pulling cash from the budget surplus, Monday, as opposition legislators called for increased spending to plug the gaps in the education system.
Several legislators raised concerns that the marginal increase in the education budget was not enough to cover multiple weaknesses identified in a series of damning inspection reports.
“When you see 80 percent of the primary schools failing, what are we doing these other things for?” said Bodden Town MLA Anthony Eden as he joined calls for money to be moved from another part of the budget to provide additional resources for primary schools.
North Side MLA said government should reduce the $2.3 million allocation to private schools to zero and divert the funds to public schools. Opposition leader McKeeva Bush argued this would just push more children into the public school system, making it even more costly to run. He said funds could be pulled from the budget surplus.
Legislators eventually voted, during Finance Committee, to approve the original spending allocation after Finance Minister Marco Archer said government would look at the possibility of moving funds from another area once the budget is approved.
He said it was clear that even the opposition legislators could not agree on how much extra money was needed and where it should come from, so further analysis would be required before any shuffling of funding.
Concerns initially focused on the need for increased funding at Savannah Primary School where parents have raised a petition calling for more resources in the wake of the unfavorable inspection report. But legislators from across the island raised similar issues in relation to school resources in every district.
Premier Alden McLaughlin said, “These things have to be dealt with equitably, we can’t give one school who has the best lobbyist one allocation at the cost of other schools.”
He said government was doing the best it could with what resources it had.
Overall standards at 10 of 15 government schools were deemed “unsatisfactory” in last year’s baseline inspection reports – the lowest option on the grading scale used by the inspection team. Only Layman E. Scott High School on Cayman Brac and Prospect Primary School got positive reviews.
Alva Suckoo, independent MLA for Bodden Town, questioned whether the resources allocated in the budget were enough to change that picture.
Christen Suckoo, the chief officer in the Ministry of Education, said there were multiple positions, including teaching assistants, education psychologists and occupational therapists, that had been identified as necessary, if funding was available.
But he said additional resources had already been put in place to address some of the main weaknesses highlighted in the reports. He said the first phase of improvements focused on the quality of teaching and learning, which would give the most “bang for the buck” in terms of improving schools.
He added, “We have to be strategic in which areas of need we address first. What we chose to do was to deal with developing our principals so they can become more autonomous so they are stronger school leaders, and develop our teachers so the impact on teaching and learning is maximized. When you want to change your system, that is where you start. We will address every need, but if we take it all on at once we are going to drown.”
He said the ministry had a strong improvement plan and an unprecedented level of cooperation between officials, principals and teachers and urged legislators to be patient, saying “we are not going to see the fruit ripen for another 10 years.”