Speid says closure of private schools will cost Gov’t more

JAMAICA Teachers’ Association President Owen Speid has called on the Government to provide funding to private schools, many of which are now struggling to stay afloat due to the COVID-19 pandemic which resulted in school doors being closed from early March.

“I am calling on the ministry to assist the basic schools and preparatory schools, along with the private high schools across the island, with direct funding. [There are] the little preparatory schools and the basic schools out there, when you combine all of those we are going to be seeing that we cannot do without those basic schools and those private schools,” Speid said.

The JTA president, who was the guest speaker at a Rotary Club of St Andrew meeting yesterday, said it would cost the Government more to fund the education budget if those schools were allowed to fold.

“I think it is penny wise and pound foolish for any government to believe they can ignore the private schools and just go ahead and provide funding to the public schools and leave those private schools to die; it will cost us much more if those institutions die,” Speid argued.

According to the JTA head, the Administration would find itself with a larger public sector wage bill as well as find itself in need of many more teachers to deal with the increased student load.

“There is a space issue already in the public school system. We cannot allow for our private schools, the basic schools, the private high schools to go under at this time. I am calling on the Government to assist those schools and ensure that they stay afloat in a time of crisis,” Speid said further. He also said if the Government fails to address the concerns of teachers it could find itself facing a mass exodus of educators on the heels of the pandemic.

Early last month, minister with responsibility for the education portfolio, Karl Samuda said the Government was unable to help privately owned schools at this time.

He was responding to a suggestion by Opposition spokesman Peter Bunting that it could be left to the Government to provide aid to 30,000 private school students if there is no assistance available for these institutions.

Samuda said the Government could not afford to bail out these schools by September, but would continue to give the assistance it can to keep them in operation.

“If we were in a position, financially, to help private schools, I am sure the minister of finance would reach out to them. But, they are not and it is what it is — a private school funded by private capital. It is a business that is run where students pay fees, and it is intended that you wouldn’t be going into [it] for altruistic means, you are going into a business to make profit. It happens to be challenging at this time, but it is a business,” he stated.

Bunting insisted that while it can be said that it is not the business of Government to get involved in contractual arrangements between parents and private schools, the service they are providing would have to be taken over by the Government if they fall out of the system.

“We cannot absorb another 30,000 to 50,000 students into the public system without creating chaos and disruption, so some position must be made to ensure that these educational institutions are supported. Otherwise, we would have to make provisions to take these additional students in the public system in September,” the Opposition spokesman said then.

The Jamaica Independent Schools’ Association (JISA), which represents some 150 private schools across the island, has been petitioning the Ministry of Education to offer financial assistance to its members since schools were first mandated closed in March as a means of limiting the spread of the novel coronavirus.

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