Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
None - Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

There are more than 80‚000 pupils in the Western Cape whose parents are defaulting on payments — requiring government compensation to 96.5% of fee-paying schools.

The situation has worsened as tough economic times put pressure on families‚ creating a knock-on financial strain on fee-paying schools relying on the collection of fees to meet their daily running costs.

The provincial government said it supports initiatives for a system that compensates schools for school-fee exemptions‚ "as we recognise the important role that fee exemptions play in granting access to poorer learners".

"Many of our schools in the Western Cape are classified as Quintile 4 and 5 schools [fee paying]‚ which are supposed to be wealthy‚ but the reality is that they are attended by a large number of poorer learners. In some instances, these schools should actually be classified as Quintile 1 to 3 schools [no-fee schools]."

This year, the province’s education department‚ in an effort to mitigate the effects of the quintile system‚ has made an increased amount of more than R50m available to assist Quintile 4 and 5 schools that are struggling to collect school fees from parents.

There are currently 574 public, ordinary, fee-paying schools in the province. This year, the Western Cape Education Department has paid out fee compensation to 554 of them, that’s 96.5%.

School-fee exemptions are granted to orphans‚ a pupil for whom a poverty-linked state social grant is paid‚ or a pupil whose parents were granted an exemption from the payment of school fees by the governing body.

Parents qualify for exemption if the school fees are more than 10% of the parents’ combined annual salary. They can apply for partial exemption if the fees are between 2% and 10% of their annual salary, depending on the number of children they have at a fee-paying‚ public school.

Since 2011‚ the number of pupils and schools requiring support have soared. In 2011‚ the Western Cape Education Department paid out more than R20m with 48‚974 learners claiming compensation. In 2017‚ the department has paid out more than double that amount‚ at more than R49m for 80‚895 pupils (up from 77‚264 in 2016).

"This is 100% more than the [department] paid out six years ago and is indicative of the tough economic circumstances many of our parents and, consequently, our schools‚ currently find themselves in‚" the department said in a statement.

The districts with the highest number of schools that applied for compensation are Metro Central Education District, with 123 schools applying for compensation for 12‚868 pupils; and Metro South Education District, with 107 schools applying for compensation for 17‚146 pupils.

In addition to fee compensation‚ in 2013 the department offered certain public schools serving poorer communities the option to apply for no-fee status. In the 2017-18 financial year‚ the department is supporting 218 schools awarded this status. "Every child has a right to education and we are very pleased we can assist these schools with this kind of compensation‚ as well as assist the parents, who are struggling to make ends meet."

However‚ the department said it is also "aware of a number of parents who are in a financial position to pay school fees‚ but choose not to‚ knowing their child cannot be discriminated against". The department cautioned these parents that schools can take legal action against those who owe fees, and those who do not qualify for full or partial exemption.

In cases where parents choose to pay for non-essentials over their child’s school fees, the department appealed to them to act responsibly and pay their school fees. "Compulsory school fees remain an important source of additional funds in public schools that have not been declared no-fee schools."

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