Now that the SC has upheld the 25 per cent clause,Centre and states must work on implementation
Now that the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutional validity of reservation of 25 per cent of admissions at the entry-level in private unaided schools for disadvantaged sections,focus should shift to the implementation of this provision. The Right to Education Act stipulates that private unaided schools shall be reimbursed expenditure so incurred by it to the extent of per child expenditure incurred by the state,or the actual amount charged from the child,whichever is less. So if the state spends Rs 1,500 per child and a private unaided school charges Rs 2,000,the school would be reimbursed Rs 1,500 per child admitted under the reservation policy. However,to implement this clause effectively,we need to know precisely how much both state and private schools spend on a per child basis. Unsurprisingly,given the paucity of data,this information is difficult to find and hence has become a hotly contested issue.
Broadly,the Government of India (GoI) funds elementary education through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). The average per child expenditure for the financial year 2011-12 can be calculated by combining SSA budget figures with enrolment data collected through the District Information System for Education. In 2011-12,GoI spent Rs 4,269 as its allocation per enrolled child. This number varies across states. For instance,Chhattisgarh spent Rs 7,037,while Gujarat spent Rs 3,049 and Meghalaya spent Rs 27,451. However,the GoI allocation barely touches the surface of total government spending on elementary education. State government allocations account for almost 70 per cent of the total education budget. When these allocations are taken into account,per child cost variations across states are even starker.
But state-level allocations do not offer an accurate picture of per child costs. Accountability Initiatives calculations of per child costs (see table) at the district level point to significant variation in per child costs across districts. Thus,in thinking through the mechanism for arriving at per child costs for the purpose of reimbursements to private schools,the district rather than the state ought to be the unit of analysis.
However,calculating per child allocation and expenditure at district level is tricky,given the lack of budget documents at the district level and multiplicity of departments implementing various schemes for elementary education. Arriving at these numbers requires a great deal of creativity. Data in states that have computerised their treasuries,such as Andhra Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh,are easier to ascertain. Here,the per child cost can be calculated by tracing transactions in the bank accounts of the Drawing and Disbursing Officers at the district level. But in states where this information is not collated,estimates had to be made based on the proportion of schools,teachers and students in a given district compared to those in a state.
Still,if the RTE provision is to be implemented seriously,this must be given priority. There should be clarity about which items are to be included while calculating per child cost recurring costs or both recurring and capital costs,for example,and how the per child cost is to be adjusted from year to year. The suggestion of having a uniform rule for the entire country,decided by the Centre in consultation with state governments,is worth considering. All the data required to perform cost calculations should be made public,so that anybody can understand and replicate them.
There is even more ignorance about the other side of the coin private unaided schools. With the exception of the elite schools that have dominated the public debate,relatively little is known about the day-to-day functioning of private unaided schools,and how much these schools charge per child. In fact,most people do not know that private schools in much of India spend far less per child than government schools. A recent study by India Institute shows that 69 per cent of private unaided schools in Patna charge less than Rs 300 per month,lower than Bihar governments per child cost of Rs 4,705. But private school costs are no longer static. RTE regulations with regard to teacher wages and infrastructure hold implications for private school costs,which makes estimating the financial implications of the reservation clause difficult.
It will help if state education departments display a list of all private unaided schools that admit students under the 25 per cent category with details,including the number of students admitted,fees charged and amount reimbursed,on their websites. These schools should be required to submit a statement indicating their costs under different heads and the fees charged at least annually. This should also be made publicly available. The government should come up with a standardised format for such a statement. This will facilitate public scrutiny of expenditure undertaken by private schools,and meaningful comparisons across private schools.
The writer is senior researcher,Accountability Initiative,Delhi