Today, on Friday 6 October at 12 o’clock, 250 members of Equal Education will be picketing outside the offices of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) in Pretoria. We are demanding that a conditional grant to fund scholar transport be established – as per the public promise made by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.
Our members have struggled and continue to struggle to reach school each day. Taking unsafe private transport, threats of physical violence and sheer exhaustion from walking long distances to school should not be part of any learners’ daily routine. That is why, since 2014, we have fought for scholar transport.
We have documented learners’ journeys, and collected and cross-checked data on learners in need of scholar transport. We have presented in Parliament and written submissions, we have picketed and protested and engaged provincial and national government on several occasions.
The publication of the National Learner Transport Policy was a victory for Equal Education members. But we have learnt that until an adequate budget is allocated to learner transport, this Policy means very little. Over a million learners in need of transport to school are currently without government-subsidised scholar transport. Despite the safety provisions outlined in the Policy, this year alone 36 learners have died in taxi and bakkie collisions as they made their way to and from public schools in South Africa.
A CONDITIONAL GRANT IS URGENT AND ESSENTIAL
Provincial education departments (PEDs) usually cite inadequate funds as one of the main reasons that they are not meeting the need for learner transport.
PEDs are expected to fund the provision of learner transport using their equitable share allocations. However, simply increasing the equitable share is not likely solve the learner transport funding for these reasons:
1. The equitable share allows provinces the discretion to use the budget for whatever purpose they would like. We have seen that in some cases it is budget for scholar transport that suffers when provinces face budgetary pressures. A conditional grant will prevent the shifting of funds allocated to scholar transport, because it the money will be ring-fenced.
2. An increase to the equitable share would be allocated in the same manner as the rest of the equitable share, instead of in proportion to learner transport needs. A conditional grant will match allocation to need.
3. A conditional grant would allow for a level of oversight by treasury and other stakeholders that is not possible with the current system. Most provinces do not have a specific sub-programme for learner transport so the values are not recorded separately, and budget for scholar transport is in the provincial education department for some provinces, and the provincial department of transport for others. A conditional grant would ensure that allocations and expenditure are easily identifiable and traceable.
A conditional grant will ensure additional funding specifically for scholar transport, subject to strict levels of accountability and transparent monitoring of spending. It will ensure that the specific needs of provinces are provided for, assisting those with the greatest demand.
UNNECESSARY DELAYS, UNACCEPTABLE EXCUSES
Equal Education has made several submissions to Parliament advocating for a conditional grant for scholar transport, and impressing upon Parliamentarians the rationale for this much-needed additional, ring-fenced funding. We made multiple submissions before the Standing Committee on Appropriations, and in May this year we again made a case for a conditional grant in a written submission to the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education.
In September 2014, the DBE stated that a conditional grant for scholar transport would “continue to be pursued”. In May 2016, the Standing Committee’s report to Parliament recommended that National Treasury , with its relevant partners, explore options for ring-renced funding for scholar transport, dedicated “solely and exclusively” to that purpose. Finally in 2017, the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, publicly committed to working with Treasury to explore a conditional grant for scholar transport funding. Soon thereafter, the Director-General of the DBE Mathanzima Mweli reported to the parliamentary Portfolio Committee that if all went according to plan, a conditional grant would be introduced in 2018/2019.
The National Treasury itself does not have the power to introduce a conditional grant. The Departments of Education and Transport must draft a proposal which must then be endorsed by Cabinet. According to National Treasury, the conditional grant could be introduced within a year of the endorsement of the proposal.
For further media comment:
Luyolo Mazwembe (Equal Education Head of National Organising) 073 475 7921
Nicola Soekoe (Equal Education Researcher) 072 853 4232