Tamil Nadu’s 18,000 private unaided and 16,500 budget private schools (BPS) are experiencing an unprecedented financial crunch. Because of the Covid-19 lockdown — education institutions in the state have been shuttered for over 80 days — they have not been able to collect fees from parents. A majority of them are set to default in paying remuneration for April-June quarter to their nearly 3 lakh teachers and 1.5 lakh non-teaching staff.
Moreover, with the state’s AIADMK government having issued a directive (April 20) ordering all private schools and college managements not to compel students or parents to collect advance tuition fees for the forthcoming academic year 2020-21 during the lockdown period, private independent schools and especially BPS are stretched to meet salaries, infrastructure, maintenance and bank instalment payments.
“We don’t have the cash flow to pay our teachers’ salaries or to provide basic necessities at school. With some difficulty, we paid the salaries for March but after that, we have not been able to meet salary or maintenance expenses. Ours is a budget private school levying total fees of Rs.14,00020,000 per year, depending on the economic condition of parents. We collect term fees in advance but due to the sudden closure of schools, we couldn’t collect fees for the third term ending April. Moreover, 25 percent of students are yet to settle the fees of the previous year,” says James Sathya Raj, principal of the state board-affiliated K-12 St. John’s Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Chennai, which has 2,000 students mentored by 100 teachers on its muster rolls.
The dire financial condition of private schools is exacerbated by the prolonged neglect of the state government to pay private schools their accrued dues. Under s.12 (1) (c) of the Right of Children to Free & Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, all private schools — except minority promoted schools exempted by the Supreme Court in 2012 — are obliged to admit children of poor households in their neighbourhood free-of-charge in classes I-vIII to the extent of 25 percent of capacity. S.12 (2) of the Act mandates that the cost of their education is reimbursed to the extent of per child expenditure incurred by the state government in its own schools. However, almost all state governments countrywide have been very laggard in reimbursing private schools the amounts owed to them under s.12 (2).
“In April this year, the state government belatedly paid Rs.500 crore s.12 (2) reimbursements for the year 2018-19 which was distributed statewide with the exception of private schools in Chennai who are owed Rs.60 crore. Almost
three years later, we are being given the standard answer that the matter is under consideration of the state finance ministry. As per the RTE Act rules framed by the state government, 50 percent of the reimbursement amount is payable to private schools as soon as a child is admitted under s.12 (1) (c) with the remaining 50 percent paid during the academic year, generally by September. But this rule is observed more in the breach. Given the severe cash flow problems that private — especially budget — schools are experiencing, the state government should do immediately clear their s.12 (2) reimbursement amounts,” says advocate M.J. John Arokia Prabhu, vice president of the Tamil Nadu Private Schools Association and legal advisor to the Delhi-based National Independent Schools Alliance (NISA).
With the tuition fees of an estimated 5.7 million children enrolled in Tamil Nadu’s 35,000 private independent and budget schools overdue for over three months, their managements, promoters and proprietors have had to dig deep into savings to pay the salaries of teachers and employees. With the Covid-19 pandemic still not having peaked and raging across Tamil Nadu, and Chennai having emerged as a hotspot, the least the state government can do is release their s.12 (2) dues.
Indeed it should do more by making direct benefit transfers of children’s tuition fees into the bank accounts of private schools. There is a clear and present danger of collapse of Tamil Nadu’s private schools system which is primarily responsible for the good reputation this southern seaboard state enjoys for high quality education.
Shivani Chaturvedi (Chennai)