26 April 2023 – Victory for Eastern Cape Schools as Department of Education Doubles Budgets Following LRC Intervention

LRC logo

For Immediate Release

26 April 2023

Victory for Eastern Cape schools as Department of Education doubles budgets following LRC intervention

MAKHANDA — In a significant turn of events, Eastern Cape public schools are set to receive the much-needed financial relief they have been desperately waiting for. After years of severe underfunding by the Eastern Cape Department of Education (ECDOE), schools in the province will finally be allocated the appropriate funding per learner, in accordance with the National Norms and Standards for Public Ordinary Schools. This development follows months of pressure by the Legal Resources Centre to force the ECDOE to issue revised paper budgets to schools.

The National Norms and Standards for School Funding determine the per-learner funding that each learner in the country is entitled to receive per year, and it is amended every year by the Minister of Basic Education. However, since 2020, schools in the Eastern Cape have been funded well below the national per-learner target. In 2020, schools were advised that they would only be receiving 78% of their paper budgets due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Schools’ budgets were further cut during the 2021/2022 and 2022/2023 financial years, and when schools received their paper budgets in November 2022 for the 2023/2024 financial year, it again showed a decrease from previous years. While no-fee-paying schools were entitled to receive R1602 per learner for the 2023/2024 financial year, schools in the Eastern Cape were only going to receive R607.90 per learner, which amounted to only 38% of the per-learner target and R995 less than what learners in other provinces would receive for the financial year.

Since 2020, schools in the province have been struggling to financially survive the budget cuts, and the prospect of another budget reduction for 2023/2024 placed enormous financial pressure on schools. In May 2022, the LRC began engaging with the ECDOE on the budget cuts, but repeated correspondence to the ECDOE went unanswered. When the 2023/2024 paper budgets were released in November 2022, the LRC indicated that it would be pursuing legal action against the ECDOE to challenge the budget cuts. Acting on the instructions of schools in Makhanda, the LRC advised the ECDOE that the reduction in the paper budgets violated learners’ rights to education, human dignity, and equality, and discriminated against children in the province.

In January 2023, the ECDOE sent a memorandum to schools to advise them that the budget cuts were being implemented due to financial constraints, but provided no information on how schools would be supported to survive the budget cuts. Despite this, the ECDOE made an about-turn and, at a principals’ meeting on 3 April 2023 in Gqeberha, announced that revised paper budgets would be sent to schools. This decision was confirmed on 21 April 2023 by the ECDOE when it was announced that an additional R872.5 million had been made available to fund at the National Norms and Standards target for 2023/2024. Schools were expected to receive the revised budgets during the week of 24 April 2023.

This news of the increased budget is a welcome relief for Eastern Cape schools that approached the LRC to act on their behalf in this matter. Mr Boniwe Tyota, the chairperson of the school governing body of Tantyi Primary School in Makhanda, has indicated that the revised budget would mean that their school would receive approximately R174 000 more for the 2023/2024 financial year than was originally budgeted. The school has been relying on parents to provide additional funding to keep the school running, and this has placed a significant financial burden on parents and the school. The revised budget would alleviate some of this financial pressure and enable the school to provide better education and resources for its learners.

The chairperson of the SGB for Ntsika Secondary School in Makhanda, Mr Xolisile Tyotha, has expressed his delight at the decision to issue schools with revised budgets. He says the school’s budget will now be more than doubled from R503 339 to an estimated R1 326 456. While the school welcomes the decision, it is difficult for them to plan effectively when decisions on budgets are taken in this manner. “We are now already a month into the 2023/2024 financial year, and we have had to complete our financial planning. Now we are told we will receive new budgets. While we are happy for more money, it disrupts our planning and budgeting. The ECDOE should have issued us with the correct budgets in the first place, and not only when we started putting legal pressure on them,” he said.

The LRC welcomes the decision by the ECDOE, and while none of the schools represented by the LRC have received their revised budgets to date, we will continue to monitor the process and hold the ECDOE to its undertaking to issue the budgets. Although this decision addresses the immediate needs of the schools, the reality is that the way the Norms and Standards for School Funding are framed, remains problematic. The norms allow for provincial education departments to deviate from the target set by the minister, creating an unequal and discriminatory funding model, where some provinces fund below the target amount. The Eastern Cape has seen three years of below-target funding, and there is no guarantee that budgets won’t be cut again in the future. The reality is that the norms are unconstitutional in their current form and the LRC will continue to explore ways to challenge the provisions that allowed for the deviation from the target in the first place. Despite this, we regard the decision by the ECDOE to reissue the paper budgets as an enormous victory for our clients, and in particular for all the learners in the Eastern Cape.