Several private schools in Karnataka remained shut on Tuesday (February 23) in protest against the state government’s order to slash 30% of their tuition fees for the academic year 2020-21.
The Department of Primary and Secondary Education in January issued an order stating that the management of private schools should collect only 70% of the tuition fees (for 2020-21) that they had collected last year (2019-20).
Primary and Education Minister Suresh Kumar had said the decision was taken after they received several appeals from parents facing financial crisis due to the COVID-19 crisis.
However, private school managements say they too are already struggling with pending fees for 2019-20, and a cut in fee structure for 2020-21 will only burden them further in the absence of any relief package announced by the government.
Shashi Kumar, president of the association of Managements of Primary and Secondary School (KAMS), questioned how the government arrived at the 30% figure.
“On what basis are they asking for a 30% fee cut? Did they conduct any study? When this government did not announce any relief measure, be it for school teachers or for the ailing institutions, how are they thinking we can cope with the crisis?” Kumar asked.
The government order also stated that in case the parents have already paid the fees in full for the 2020-21 academic year, the school management must return the 30% fee or adjust it with the fees for the next academic year.
The government has also set up a complaint redressal mechanism for parents in case the school management refuses to adhere to the fee cut order. It even said the schools should in no way punish or penalise the students for raising voice against them.
But Kumar argues that in effect, with delay in RTE reimbursement and reduced new intake across schools, the reduction would be 35-50% depending on the school size.
“At the current rate, a school with less than 25,000 per annum fee structure and around 800 students can operate by paying only 75% salaries to the staff. Wouldn’t that bring down the morale of the teachers and in turn affect the students?” he asked.
Meanwhile, nearly 25,000 teachers and management staff from various schools across the state, including CBSE and ICSE structures, are likely to participate in a rally on Tuesday from Bengaluru Railway Station to Freedom park in the city.
Management staff say that through the rally they want to highlight the financial distress of private education institutions, and question the unscientific fee reduction, and the lag in the RTE reimbursements that the government owes to the schools.
In a court submission in August last year, challenging a similar order, school associations had said barely 1-2% of the students had paid fees for the academic year and the delays affected their finances as they had to pay salaries to staff.
Related news | Calcutta HC orders 20% reduction in fees in private schools
Prasanna Kumar, CEO of School Ventures that connects buyers and sellers of schools across the country, had earlier highlighted that several schools are facing financial crisis and shutting down in the wake of COVID-19 stress.
As per his estimate, about 30-40% of the 1,30,000 pre-schools, operated by women entrepreneurs with low investment and working capital funds, have been permanently shut in the country. Besides, 400-500 private state board schools, which collect fees on a monthly basis, have either shut down or are up for sale. He estimated that at least a lakh teachers and non-teaching staff are jobless in Karnataka alone.
Kumar had said most of these schools ran on ₹2-5 lakh monthly expense and were largely dependent on school fees to meet their operational expenses, i.e. to pay for building lease/rent, maintenance cost and teachers’ and non-teaching staff their salaries.
Like in Karnataka, the Madras High Court had in July permitted school managements in Tamil Nadu to collect only 75 per cent of the fees collected in the previous academic year.
Similarly, the Calcutta High Court too had passed an order asking schools to offer a minimum of 20% reduction in the fee payable for 2020-21. Besides it also directed the schools not to charge for non-essential services such as laboratory, craft, sports, and other facilities.
The order was challenged in the Supreme Court, but the apex court refused to stay the HC order and upheld the fee reduction.