Frequently Asked Questions 2
Education Finance Reform
It’s fair. It’s time.
Key Highlights of Education Finance Reform
The finance reform is about the changing the way we finance secondary schools- with funding that follows the students-in order to give every child a fair share of public funds to give every child a chance to learn.
Over time, parents will find it cheaper, not more expensive, to educate the children through secondary school.
Why do we need finance reform?
At present, almost three out of five Belizean children of high school age are not in high school. A two-year study in Belize has revealed that a key reason for this is that parents cannot afford to keep their children in school because of high user fees. Sometimes children are forced to drop out because of costs and others are unable to access because of cost.
Only about five per cent of poor Belizeans graduate high school; for those who are better off, the figure isn’t that much better – only about 15 per cent graduate.
No other country in Central America and the Caribbean spends more money on education as a portion of the entire economy than Belize – yet our enrolment rates are the lowest and dropout rates and repetition rates are high by comparison to other countries in the region.
What is the current situation right now in Belize?
Fewer and fewer children are finishing school because of high costs and a tendency to weed out children who do not learn as fast or as well as others. With finance reform, we have a shot at putting children at the centre of Belize’s future once again.
Belize’s secondary enrolment rate is below 45 per cent. This means that not only children’s futures are blunted but the entire country’s development and its drive to eradicate poverty, reduce crime and violence and restore Belize.
Figures show that when male high school enrolment increased, juvenile crime in Belize decreased and likewise, when male enrolment dropped, crime escalated.
Education Finance Reform will not solve all of Belize’s education issues overnight but it’s a vital first step to reforming education, make it affordable, improve access and equity, attain social justice and, eventually, slash costs for parents.
Is this something new?
The is not a new idea. There have been discussions for many years about the need to ensure that there is a ‘level playing field’ for our students.
In fact, this journey began as far back in 1997 – 13 years ago – when the Ministry drafted plans for reforming school finance. Principals, too, have been calling for reform with their own proposals dating back to 2004 – six years ago. After two years of study and a round of consultations this year, this is the beginning of a fresh journey for Belize’s development – and a major strike in the fight against poverty.
The Government is keeping its campaign promise to introduce education finance reform – but it’s only one element of a major overhaul that will see more access, equity and quality in our education system and a better chance for all Belizean children in the future.
What’s in it for parents?
Parents should support reform because it will eventually lead to lower education costs while maintaining and in many cases improving access to a quality education for their children. The reform will allow the Ministry of Education and Youth the engage schools in lowering their fees over time. With time, parents will no longer be forced to remove their children from school just because they can’t afford the fees for a standard education.
Will finance reform be cheaper for the government?
The Government of Belize will continue to spend at current levels but we will be getting greater value for money—more ‘bang for our buck’; it makes it more effective, efficient and fair for all.
How will it work?
At present, the Ministry funds 100 per cent of teacher salaries for government secondary schools and 70 per cent of teacher salaries for denominational secondary schools. Additionally, the Ministry funds tuition for denominational secondary schools. Schools also charge user fees to raise funds for other expenses. By allocating money to schools on a per student basis, with additional allowances or compensations for students in poor communities and with special academic needs, schools will be rewarded for increasing enrolment. This will also provide incentives for schools to reduce repetition and dropout.
The new funding formula takes into account the special academic needs of some children and the economic status of students by districts.
What do you mean by special academic needs and how is it determined?
Under the proposed finance reform students who score lower than a 60 percent on the Primary School Examination (PSE) will be considered to have Special Academic Need. It is proposed that additional funding be provided for these students Therefore, schools whose intake include a high proportion of Special Academic Need students will get more funding for those students. The extra money will provide schools with resources to put in appropriate programmes to support these students and ensure their success.
What do you mean by Socio-economic disadvantage and how do you determine it?
In the proposed new method of financing secondary schools, socio-economic disadvantaged advantaged will be defined as those students are below the poverty line. In the initial stage of applying the new method, the poverty rate for the district in which the school is located will be used to determine the proportion of students in the school that will be estimated below the poverty rate. The school will receive additional funding for socio-economically disadvantaged students. We recognise that this is not as precise a measure as we would like it to be and we are working on developing more precise measurements to reflect the particular realities in some schools and as we move forward with implementation in subsequent years we will make suggest adjustments
What will this do for poor families who struggle to afford their children’s schooling?
This is good news especially for the poor – only 4 per cent of children from poor communities ever graduate high school; this is not only stunting their own future but this country’s. It is fair to end this; it is time to end this.
The new method of financing will provide additional funding to schools for students with socio-economic disadvantage so that schools can put in place the kinds of support programmes to ensure these students’ success.
Does this mean parents will get money for education?
The reform means that, with time, parents will be able to save money and afford to send their children to secondary school – or use the money to give them additional tuition in specialist subjects. Over time, and with the introduction of curriculum reform over the next couple years, another major cost to parents – textbooks – will start to either come down or be more predictable as a standardised curriculum will lead to standardised, high-quality, lower-cost textbooks.
Who will be the winners and losers from this change?
Education Finance Reform is a win-win reform – for the government, schools, parents, and, for the first time, the children of Belize.
- The Government will be able to control mounting costs to taxpayers while giving more value for tax dollars spent in improving student performance, enrolment and success rates. This will also be an effective anti-poverty measure.
- Schools will be encouraged to enrol more students by making more efficient and effective use of their facilities and faculty, and improving quality with government support.
- Far from becoming redundant, teachers across various subject areas will be needed now more than ever to teach the rising numbers of students who will be able to afford secondary education; furthermore, as teachers become more effectively deployed, it may be possible for specialist teachers to focus in their areas of specialization rather than teaching across subjects.
- Parents finally will have a quality general high school education that they can afford through the new finance formula. Students will have a better shot at getting and finishing their secondary school education which could lead to them earning four and a half times more throughout their lifetime than if they only finish primary school. And they need high school to move on to university – where their earning potential can reach as high as 110 per cent more over their lifetime.
- Belize children: You will have no excuse to miss your education and every reason to stay in school.
Will this mean less money for schools?
No. School managements and principals need to know that this means help is on the way to reduce non-teaching costs, improve efficiency and effectiveness and improve operations as they seek to educate more children. Schools that are currently above the average in funding will continue to get the same amount of funding annually with adjustments for salary increments. Schools that are currently below the average will get additional funds in step-wise fashion over five year period. Schools that wish to be restrictive in their intake will find their funding cut since the new method is based on the number of students enrolled; schools that want to educate more children will get step-by-step assistance to achieve their goal.
What are some of the other benefits of this reform?
The funding will be allocated per student, not by any politically motivated criteria. The new system will reduce the historical differences in the allocation of funds and the high annual inflation of school budgets.
In short, under the reform, the money follows the student and ultimately, it’s all about the children of Belize – this is change that Belizeans can truly believe in.
What will happen to user fees?
Together with Curriculum Reform, which we will embark on in the coming months, parents should see user fees reduce over time. The new method of financing will make sure that a quality, general education of core subjects and electives is standard – and becomes affordable – for all parents.
Will this mean more or less government spending on education?
Belize now spends more money as a portion of the entire economy than any other country in Central America and the Caribbean and it is still at the bottom in terms of access and results. With finance reform, we will begin for the first time to get value for money in the education system.
What will schools have to do under the new funding formula?
The challenge is for schools to come up with plans to restructure their costs so that they can increase enrolment and access to secondary education. The Ministry stands ready to work with all schools – government and denominational – to meet this goal.
Won’t some schools get less money or more money?
With the new finance formula, some schools – many of them in the urban centres will see their funds frozen because they may appear to be overfunded. The Ministry will work with them to improve efficiency through sharing of resources and cutting non-teaching costs so that they can increase enrolment. In some areas, particularly for the rural poor, funding will most likely increase – but these schools, too, will see their funding increase over a five-year period only if they too, demonstrate that they can use the extra funds to improve performance and not maintain the current state of affairs.
Won’t finance reform mean cutting teachers jobs and pay?
The formula will not make teachers redundant; in fact, more and better qualified teachers will be needed than ever before. Teachers need to be ready for the challenge of educating all children.
The formula is based per student rather on teachers’ salaries. However, it doesn’t mean lower pay for teachers - in fact, the formula anticipates teacher salary increments.
Specialist teachers in some electives may be encouraged to offer their courses to students from nearby schools, for example.
Some teachers teach classes of fewer than 10 students, especially in Forms 3 and 4 because so many students have dropped out owing to the high costs. This makes education less effective and efficient. The reform will mean more students completing their education.
Won’t Finance Reform give school authorities the opportunity to cut teachers?
More teachers will be needed once the enrolment increases as anticipated; this is no time to eliminate staff; this is time to use them more effectively. By allowing students from other schools to access courses at each other’s schools, students benefit, teachers are maximised, efficiency is enhanced – and greater value for money is achieved. When this is done, it is less likely that a teacher will have to teach courses outside of their area of specialisation to make up teaching hours.
The schools will have to work with the Ministry’s team to improve performance and the efficiency of their operations.
Isn’t this a backdoor to government control of religious schools?
This is not about government control of denominational schools; this is about government beginning to control the skyrocketing costs of education and the plummeting enrolment which is leaving young people disaffected, disappointed and distracted in ways that could lead to crime and violence.
Education Finance Reform is about achieving social justice – which all religions in Belize support.
What is the politics behind reform?
This is NOT a political issue; this is an issue for all Belizeans and the future of the country; Education Finance Reform is fair for all and it is time for all. Both political parties have sought to address finance reform – from as far back as 1997 or earlier with proposals from the ministry, and with principals themselves contributing proposals in 2004.
Won’t you be taking money from richer schools to subsidise poor ones?
School financing that is based on the number of students and their needs, is the most cost-effective way to increase enrolment. It is clear that throwing more money at the schools doesn’t work. The reform is intended to put more bang into a buck while making sure that those children who need the most help will get more help. This is not a Robin Hood scheme; students from well-off areas or who have high test scores will not see their quality of education watered down; just more of their friends staying with them through school.
This is not about schools and about equalising grants to schools but about assuring each student an equitable share of public funds. The equity we seek is for students.
When will the reform begin?
Beginning at the end of November, the Ministry anticipates paying the new grants to schools based on the new per-student formula. The allocations for those schools that are considered above average (i.e. receiving more public funds per student) will remain the same. There will be no cuts. For the below average funded schools, their deficit gap will be closed over a five-year period with a 20 per cent increase per year - 100 per cent in five years. At the same time, accounting for inflation, the real value of the frozen grants for above average schools will match the same level of funding for the below average schools. Schools have a five year period to develop implement appropriate measures to improve efficiency and performance.
Will the secondary school curriculum change?
Curriculum Reform is essential to finance reform - if we are to make a general secondary education affordable for all. The new finance formula will allow schools to offer a general education – not a basic curriculum but a standard curriculum of core subjects and electives (including but not limited to technical and vocational subjects) for all children in the school. This means that eventually, user fees that schools will charge in future will tend to be for extra subjects and specialty electives beyond the standard curriculum.
The Ministry of Education will begin the process of collaboration with schools, and consultation with students and parents, on curriculum reform but the Ministry has ideas that will mean good news for –
- Churches who want to improve the spiritual and personal development of children;
- Parents who want to make sure their children do well reading, writing and mathematics
- Employers who will find workers who are better prepared for the world of work
- Students who want to excel in their favourite subjects while getting the basics right in core subjects.
Can this reform help restore my country?
We believe that this is an opportunity to truly Restore Belize – beyond a mere slogan or idea. It’s fair; and it’s time.