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Go seeks immediate passage of bill expanding use of Special Education Fund.

By Mario Casayuran

Senator Christopher Lawrence "Bong" Go on Friday called for the early passage of a bill that seeks to expand the application of the Special Education Fund (SEF) to other needs of the public education system.

Go, chairman of the Senate Health and Demography Committee, said he recognizes the need for local government units to increase resources in order to prepare their local educational institutions to quickly adapt to the Department of Education's (DepEd's) policy of "Blended Learning" as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic grips the country.

"Through a proposed amendment to the Local Government Code, we can provide LGUs (local government units) the flexibility to maximize available resources in order to help educational institutions adopt policies that can allow our students to continue their studies without exposing them to health risks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic," Go said.

Go had earlier recommended to the education sector to innovate on ways on how to conduct teaching and learning while adhering to the physical distancing protocols and other measures set by the government.

"Gamitin ang teknolohiya na available para sa distance learning tulad ng pagkakaroon ng virtual classrooms. May airtime rin na allotted for educational programs ayon sa batas, pwede po itong gamitin bilang alternative mode of teaching and learning,'' he explained. (Let's utilize available technology for distance learning such as having virtual classrooms. Under the law, there is also an airtime allotted for educational programs, this can be used as an alternative mode of teaching and learning.)

Go also welcomed the offer of state-owned Intercontinental Broadcasting Corporation (IBC-13) to use its television facilities as a remote learning platform.

However, Go said that in order to successfully implement "Blended Learning,'' it is essential to provide schools the necessary equipment and school supplies to adopt new learning techniques.

President Duterte had suggested the use of radios as a mode of distance learning given that face-to-face teaching may not be possible at this time due to COVID-19.

"Ayaw po nating maantala ang klase, ngunit prayoridad natin lagi ang kaligtasan at kalusugan ng mga Pilipino,'' Go said. (We don't want to delay the classes, but the safety and the health of the Filipinos are still our priority.)

Among Go's priority bills filed during the start of the 18th Congress, Senate Bill (SB) 396, "Expanding the Purposes and Application of the Special Education Fund," provides for the expansion of the application of the additional one percent Special Education Fund tax to other items relating to education, such as the construction and repair of libraries, payment of salaries, allowances, and other benefits of teaching and non-teaching personnel.

According to Go, the proposed amendment to the current law, Republic Act (RA) 7160, the "Local Government Code'' which created the SEF, will make the use of the fund less restrictive and will allow LGUs to maximize their resources to adopt new education policies and learning techniques that are necessary at this time.

Under his bill, the SEF may now be used for the operation and maintenance of public schools, and in the construction and repair of school buildings, libraries, facilities, and equipment.

It may also be utilized for the payment of salaries, allowances, and other benefits of teaching and non-teaching personnel, and competency training for teaching personnel.

The expansion will also allow for the use of the fund in the operation of Alternative Learning System (ALS), including payment of salaries, allowances and other benefits of ALS facilitators, educational research, purchase of books and periodicals, teaching aids, and other instructional materials.

Sports development and all other expenditures relative to the promotion of accessible public education as determined and approved by the local school board may also be funded through the SEF if Go's proposed measure is passed and enacted into law.

Go said that poorer LGUs heavily rely on the SEF to sustain the needs of their local education system. However, the problem is compounded by the fact that the scope of the expenses, for which SEF may be used, is limited.

"It is the poor LGUs that are hardest hit by this restriction. Nandyan naman po ang pondo, kailangan lang mabigyan natin ang LGUs ng flexibility para magamit ito upang maisaayos ang kanilang local education programs lalo na sa panahon ngayon,'' Go explained. (The fund is there, we just need to provide the LGUs the flexibility so they can utilize it for their local education programs especially at this time.)

"Kailangan mag-adopt ng makabagong mga polisiya upang makapagpatuloy ng pag-aaral ang kabataan sa paraan na hindi sila mailalagay sa alanganin dahil sa pandemya. Magagamit ng LGUs ang SEF para matulungan ang DepEd maimplementa ang Blended Learning,'' he said. (There's a need to adopt modern policies in order to continue the studies of the youth in a safe way amid the pandemic.)

Aside from adopting new educational policies in light of the COVID-19 situation, Go emphasized that the expanded use of SEF could help the public education system increase the number of graduates given the realities faced by poor students.

"Malaking tulong na libre ang tuition pero marami pa ring hindi nakakapagtapos dahil sa kakulangan ng pera para sa mga pangangailangan sa pag-aaral tulad ng notebooks, uniporme, at iba pa. Bukod sa libre makapasok sa eskwelahan, kailangan mabigyan rin ng sapat na tulong ang mga mahihirap na makapagtapos ng kanilang pag-aaral,'' he added. (Free tuition is a big help. However, there are still learners who do not finish their studies due to lack of money needed to purchase their notebooks, uniforms, and other school supplies. The poor need to be assisted so they can finish their studies.)

Go already called for amendments to the Local Government Code since 2018, admitting that not all LGUs are created equal. Bigger and richer LGUs are able to use their respective general funds to provide free school supplies and equipment to public school students.

"Hindi lahat ng LGUs ay pantay pantay. 'Yung mga mayayamang LGUs, kaya pondohan ang pangangailangan ng kanilang mga estudyante dahil malaki ang kanilang internal revenue allotment. May libreng notebooks, libro, uniporme, pati graduation rites at iba pang activities para mahubog ng maayos ang kabataan,'' he said. (Not all LGUs are equal. The rich LGUs can afford to fund the needs of their students because they have bigger internal revenue allotment. There are free notebooks, books, including graduation rites and other activities for the better future of the youth.)

"Pero 'yung mga mahihirap na LGUs, umaasa lamang sa SEF allocation na may restrictions pa ang paggamit. Ito ang rason kung bakit gusto po nating mapalawak ang gamit ng SEF para masigurong maayos ang education system kahit saan mang parte ng bansa,'' he added. (But the poor LGUs, they only depend on the SEF allocation with restrictions for its utilization. This is the reason why we want to expand the use of SEF to ensure a better education system wherever in the country.)

Go also reminded LGUs to use their resources properly and with utmost transparency at all times.

"Gamitin lang po ng tama ang pondong mayroon tayo para mas matulungan ang mga nangangailangan. Every centavo counts. Wala po dapat manakaw o masayang,'' he added. (Let us ensure the proper utilization of whatever funds we have so we could help those who are in need. Every centavo counts. Nothing should be stolen or wasted.)


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Title Annotation:National; Christopher Lawrence Go, Expanding the Purposes and Application of the Special Education Fund
Author:Casayuran, Mario
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Jun 19, 2020
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