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Schools have to pay fee exemptions out of their own pocket

Former Model C schools are granting hundreds of millions of rands in fee exemptions to learners annually but are receiving a pittance in compensation from provincial education departments.

As the number of requests for exemptions grow, the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas) has asked the department of basic education to urgently investigate the possibility of reimbursing schools for fee exemptions with amounts similar to the subsidies given to no-fee paying schools.

Fedsas has specifically suggested an amount of R1 242 for every pupil that is granted a full fee exemption – what government was paying no-fee schools this year for every child that was enrolled.

Between April 2015 and March last year, more than 530 quintile four and five schools in Gauteng, the so-called wealthy schools, granted fee exemptions worth a staggering R631.6-million but received only R13-million back in compensation.

A total of 32 fee-charging schools in Edenvale, Kempton Park and Tembisa granted R45.7-million in fee exemptions in 2015 but received only R2.1-million in compensation.

These schools included:

  • Hoërskool Birchleigh: R4.1-million granted in fee exemptions and R162 072 received in compensation;
  • Eastleigh Primary: R3.5-million granted in fee exemptions and R84 457 received in compensation; and
  • Hoërskool Jeugland: R3.3-million granted in fee exemptions and R89 324 received in compensation.

The chief executive of Fedsas, Paul Colditz, confirmed that they will be meeting with the department of basic education in June to get feedback on their suggestion that provincial education departments pay R1 242 to a school for every learner that was granted a full fee exemption.

“We raised this issue during our meeting with the department last November and their response was that they would look into this matter.”

“The schools get very, very small amounts from the departments in compensation. The numbers speak for themselves. At least Gauteng is one of the provinces where they do compensate schools that grant fee exemptions.”

Colditz said that the Eastern Cape paid out compensation to schools granting fee exemptions for the very first time last week since the introduction of the compensation policy in 2011. “They paid out compensation for fee exemptions granted in 2015.”

The Mail & Guardian has established that 62 schools in Limpopo that dished out R37-million in total in fee exemptions last year have not yet received any compensation. One of them, Hoërskool Pietersburg, granted R24-million in fee exemptions over the past eight and a half years but has not received a cent in compensation.

Willie Schoeman, the principal of Hoërskool Pietersburg, said a higher number of parents had applied for fee exemptions this year. The R3.5-million hsi school has budgeted for fee exemptions this year is already depleted. 

“We expect to grant a further R500 000 in fee exemptions as people get into financial difficulties over the next few months. It should be remembered that the budget to cover exemptions comes from the parents who are paying school fees.”

Schoeman said the granting of fee exemptions when there was no budget for it had a severe impact on the running of the school.

“If a teacher leaves, I will redivide that teacher’s work among other teachers to save costs. There have been times when I had to combine two classes and get one teacher to teach all of them,” he said.

He confirmed that for as long as he had been principal at the school, more than eight years, the Limpopo education department had not paid any compensation for fee exemptions granted.

Tim Gordon, national chief executive of the Governing Body Foundation, said some schools did not bother to apply for compensation because they said it would cost them more in auditing fees than what they would get back from the provincial education departments.

“We are told that the applications for fee exemptions are significantly higher this year than they have been in the past. Schools are saying they are really struggling because they are seeing far more applications.”

He said that some schools were being forced to cut back on staff, maintenance and learner teacher support materials because of budgets shrinking as a result of more fee exemptions being granted. “At some schools, 40% of learners have been granted fee exemptions.”

Gauteng education department spokesman Oupa Bodibe said that the fee compensation depended on the number of learners who were granted fee exemptions. “The higher the numbers of learners exempted, the more compensation they receive.”

Compensation paid by other provincial education departments to schools for granting fee exemptions in the past financial year include:

  • Western Cape: R47.5-million for 77 264 learners;
  • Northern Cape: R9-million for 19 112 pupils. A total of 110 schools granted fee exemptions valued at R38.2-million; and
  • Mpumalanga: almost R2-million to 58 schools that granted fee exemptions worth R2.8-million.

Western Cape education department spokesman Paddy Attwell said that the growing numbers of learners benefitting from fee exemption reflected the growing number of parents who cannot afford to pay school fees.

“It also reflects the commitment of the department to helping these parents and their schools despite severe budgetary constraints,” he said.

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Prega Govender
Prega Govender is the Mail & Guardians education editor. He was a journalist at the Sunday Times for almost 20 years before joining the M&G in May 2016. He has written extensively on education issues pertaining to both the basic and higher education sectors.

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