The government’s budget allocation for basic education is under increased pressure as a growing number of parents with children at fee-paying state schools opt out of paying school fees.
This is according to TPN Credit Bureau, which said: “Given the knock-on effects of the economic downturn as a result of the lockdown, it is expected that 2021 will see an increase in the number of parents who apply for exemptions from fee-paying public schools.”
In SA, two-thirds of all children attend no-fee schools, leaving the state to pick up the tab for their education.
A minority of around 6.5% attend private schools while the balance of children attend fee-paying public schools. The latter, which account for around a third of all public schools, are reliant on school fees both to pay for additional teachers not funded by the department of basic education as well as additional costs incurred by the school.
Parents with children at fee-paying public schools can, however, apply for exemption from fees based on their financial situation. TPN said this means that fee-paying public schools are increasingly being forced to balance fee collection with providing fee exemptions to parents with low incomes.
According to the TPN School Survey, collecting fees is the biggest challenge facing schools. An inability to collect all fees owing has negative implications for schools both from a budgeting and sustainability perspective given that school fees are the largest source of income for more than 90% of private schools and 60% of public schools.
At the same time parents at fee-paying public schools cite the high cost of school fees among their top three school-related issues, along with a lack of textbooks and the fact that classroom sizes are too big.
“The challenge facing many schools — even prior to the Covid crisis — is that paying school fees is not a high priority among a growing body of parents who are prioritising mortgages, rent, car finance, store cards and even payday loans over school fees,” said Michelle Dickens, MD of TPN Credit Bureau, adding that this trend has been worsened by the pandemic.
The TPN 2020 School Fee Payment Monitor indicates that school fee collections were at their peak in January 2020 with 61.5% of parents paid up, she said.
“During the lockdown, less than one in two parents were paid up in full. August was the worst month for school fee collection with only 45.9% of parents paid up. This increased in November when 52% of parents were paid up.”