"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Realigning Pork Barrel to DepEd's Budget

With visible resentment towards pork barrel, there is a proposal in the Philippine Congress to realign the 2014 Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to the Department of Education (DepEd). Rappler reports that DepEd is apparently not as eager as the legislators making the proposal. DepEd secretary Armin Luistro is quoted in the report saying:
"While it's great to say thank you and accept that offer, I also would want to make sure that this is done in a way whereby we can assure ourselves [and Congress] that our absorbing capacity will allow us to spend the budget that they will add."
Philippines' DepEd Secretary
Brother Armin A. LuĂ­stro
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armin_Luistro
Luistro also made the comment (Translated into English by Rappler): "When you were speaking a while ago I was thinking: If I'm dreaming right now, I hope I don't wake up anymore."

It is true that the Philippine government does not provide sufficient funding for DepEd. And sustainability is indeed a valid concern. There are educational costs that occur only once (building infrastrastructure, for example), but there are recurring costs like salary of personnel. This concern, of course, can be easily dismissed if the funding is present annually. Rappler then mentions a clarification made by another member of Congress, Alliance of Concerned Teachers representative Antonio Tinio:
ACT Teachers Rep Antonio Tinio said he didn't think sustaining programs that will be funded by the PDAF would be a problem since it will be an annual allocation.
Representative Antonio Tinio
ACT Teachers Party-List
http://www.act-teachers.com/rep-tinio/
The reason behind the great resentment of the public against the PDAF is without doubt about corruption. The scam is seen as a way through which politicians channel their funds to bogus organizations. The politicians than end up with the funds in their pockets. Realigning PDAF to DepEd may be giving people the impression that the likelihood of politicians enriching themselves in the process vanishes. This may or may not be true. One has to assume that DepEd is free of corruption. However, school buildings can be easily overpriced. Even feeding programs are not immune from fraud. If there was a movement similar to the "Tea Party" in the United States, people would be clamoring for the abolition of PDAF and the return of the money to taxpayers. Small government is the way to go since it is very inefficient in addition to not being trustworthy.

There is likewise another angle equally important and worth the attention. This angle goes beyond the question of corruption and shortages in education. Having ample funds for public education is a necessary but not a sufficient condition. Spending per student does not strongly correlate with learning outcomes. It is true that below a certain threshold, academic results are poor, but beyond that threshold how the money is spent makes a difference. A lot of education reforms are wasteful. Spending wisely is crucial. This requires correct prioritization and reforms must be based on evidence and not whims. Corruption indeed needs to be addressed but let us not forget that incompetence is likewise a serious problem. Without addressing incompetence and waste, the "tea party option" may actually be better: "Simply return the money to the taxpayers".



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