'Cut only the fat'

The Western Cape education department has slashed its budget for a national programme that supports poor schools, despite strong advice from its own officials against doing so.

Budget documents for the current financial year in the possession of the Mail & Guardian show that the department first allocated R137-million to Qids-up—the “quality improvement, development, support and upliftment programme”—introduced in 2006 by then national education minister Naledi Pandor.

In the Western Cape 676 schools are beneficiaries of specific Qids-up expenditure. But following objections from the Western Cape department’s chief financial officer, a revised spending plan slashed the Qids-up budget to R26-million.

This plan sidelines Qids-up priority areas such as school libraries, librarian training and building maintenance, the budget documents suggest. They show the Qids-up library budget was cut from R42-million to R3-million and R40-million was sliced off the maintenance budgets for schools, specifically in the Qids-up programme.

When Pandor launched Qids-up in 2006, she described it as an affirmative-action programme targeting basic resources at about 15 000 poor schools nationwide.
Funds for the programme would be administered at the discretion of provincial education departments.

Western Cape departmental officials argue in the budget documents that huge discrepancies in performance between poor schools and better-resourced ones make it imperative to maintain the pro-poor special funding of Qids-up schools.

“Given that the provincial pass rate in the 2009 matric examinations was 76,6% and only 43,4% in ‘no-fee’ schools, [it is] imperative that, to bring all schools on par with an accepted level of performance, adequate funding to resource these schools must become a priority,” the document reads.

The officials recommend that the department apply for special funding—such as a conditional grant from the national treasury—to avoid any cuts to Qids-up spending.

The department’s superintendent general, Penny Vinjevold, denied that there had been any change in spending priorities. “The department has allocated R111-million of the R137-million Qips-up budget to priority areas, in line with programme objectives, and is spending the remainder on related projects.”

Vinjevold did not explain how building new schools, which the budget documents indicate Qids-up money has been reallocated to, meets Qids-up targets specifically.

She also did not respond to questions about the contrary advice of her own officials on Qids-up spending, including their plea that the department apply for a conditional grant.

Education activists say they are baffled by the department’s decision to use Qids-up funding to build new schools. Lukhanyo Mangona, spokesperson for the NGO Equal Education, said: “To prevent provincial governments [from] undermining Qids-up in this way, we call on the national treasury to make funding for the programme a conditional grant.”

According to Equal Education, only 8% of South Africa’s schools have adequate libraries. The NGO has been spearheading a campaign for school libraries across the country.

“Equal Education calls on the Western Cape to maintain the current Qids-up priorities and cut only the fat,” Mangona said.

‘Where’s the money?’ ask schools

Funding for Qids-up projects has all but dried up, say three Western Cape school principals, who all asked not to be named.
A principal in Khayelitsha said Qids-up had previously enabled his school to tile its floors and install classroom doors, but no maintenance and repairs had been done this year.

“There is never enough money. We approached the [education] department to assist us in erecting a fence around the school for security and help us to build a library, but were told there is no funding available,” he said.

A high school principal in Cape Town said Qids-up had contributed to several improvements at his school, such as building a computer laboratory and providing library books. “We would approach [the department of] public works and Qids-up would chip in with money to assist,” he said. “We would get their assistance only if something needed fixing, but I can’t recall any work done this year.”

The principal of a primary school in the Cape Winelands echoed this, saying: “For the last few years we have been getting help in the form of books and repairs to the school buildings and we even got a jungle gym for the younger children.

“We haven’t received anything this year, but I must admit that we were not aware that we would be getting any money from Qids-up,” he said.

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