Picture: DAILY DISPATCH
Picture: DAILY DISPATCH

Finance minister Tito Mboweni emphasised the government’s commitment to improving school infrastructure when he delivered his maiden medium-term budget policy statement (MTBPS) speech to parliament on Wednesday.

“Nobody should learn in a school that is unsafe. Our children must have access to adequate sanitation,” he said.

The Treasury said the most urgent priority was to eradicate pit latrines in schools. An extra R800m has consequently been added to the 2018-2019 adjustment budget for the school infrastructure backlogs grant. This has been achieved by taking money from other school infrastructure programmes.

“Over the medium term, the government, donors and private-sector companies will fund these projects and test new sanitation technology,” the Treasury said in the statement.

Mboweni said in his speech that funds were to be added to the provincial equitable share of revenue so that provinces can provide sanitary pads to school pupils. ‘‘We will ensure that female learners in schools have access to sanitary pads. Several provinces have already taken the lead in rolling out the provision of free sanitary pads in schools.’’ 

Consolidated basic education expenditure will increase by 7.5% over the medium term, rising from R247.4bn in 2018-2019 to R264.3bn in 2019-2020, and will then rise to R283.1bn in 2020-2021, and to R307bn in 2021-2022.

Post-school education and training grows at a faster rate over the medium term, at 10.4%, as the government moves to fulfill former president Jacob Zuma’s promise of free higher education for students from poor and working class families, which took effect this year. It grows from R94.2bn in 2018-2019, to R110bn in 2019-2020, and then rises to R119.4bn in 2020-2021 and R126.8bn in 2021-2022.

Section27 budget analyst Daniel McLaren said the extra money allocated in the adjustment budget for school infrastructure was misleading, as there had been deeper cuts in the February budget.

The February budget announced cuts to school infrastructure grants of approximately R7bn over the medium term, according to an analysis by advocacy group Equal Education.

"There is lots of double speak in this MTBPS," said McLaren.

"Government will still be spending less on school sanitation." 

KahnT@businesslive.co.za