How citizens can help improve education governance

Our education remains primarily the responsibility of the central government despite the decentralization of governance in 1991. According to accounts, this is to avoid the politicization of education.

Of late, though, the role of local stakeholders (local government units, local citizen organizations and citizens) is becoming pivotal, particularly in ensuring good governance in education. This is due largely to the continuing gaps in education services due to an ever-increasing need.

Role of local stakeholders

The creation of the Special Education Fund (SEF) is in line with this growing recognition of the role of local stakeholders in education governance.

The SEF is a local fund earmarked for education sourced from the real property tax (RPT) collection of the LGUs. The SEF amounts to 1% of the total RPT collection, which is allocated through a special local body called the Local School Board (LSB). Aside from the SEF, the LGUs are also expected to allocate additional funds for education from their General Fund (GF).

Civil society organizations (CSOs) and citizens are expected to participate in local education governance through the LSBs that are formed at the provincial, city, and municipal levels. The LSB is composed of the local chief executive (LCE) as chair, schools division superintendent as co-chair, relevant officials of the LGU, and citizen representatives.

Citizens can take part in local education governance through the following avenues:

  • Planning and budgeting - thought the LSB, the budget deliberation in local councils and the Local Development Council (LDC), which prepares the Local Development Plan (LDP) containing the development strategy and plan of the LGU;
  • Implementation – by co-implementing education programs/projects/activities as sponsors or implementing partners; and
  • Accountability – by undertaking a monitoring initiative, serving as observers in procurement or by participating in the Project Monitoring Committee (PMC).

Impact on local education spending

These mechanisms for citizen participation are provided in order to improve the responsiveness of governance - so that actions and decisions of the government, including its allocation and use of resources, are according to the needs of the citizens.

The indicative findings of the recent study of the Ateneo School of Government (ASoG) titled “Civil Society Participation and Education Spending of Philippine Cities” that looks at the impact of CSO participation on local education spending from 2008 to 2009 in 40 randomly-sampled cities validate the above premise on participatory governance when it comes to one specific avenue of citizen participation: accountability through monitoring.

According to the said ASoG study, as CSO participation in accountability increases, local education spending (i.e., allocation and utilization of SEF plus education budget in the GF) increases.

This means, if CSOs and citizens want to increase the allocation and level of utilization of their local education budget, they should enhance their participation in accountability efforts, such as monitoring education-related procurements, program/project implementation or service delivery.

Good practices in accountability

While the said ASoG study noted a generally low level of CSO participation in monitoring, there are noted cases of good practices in CSO participation in accountability efforts.

One remarkable case documented in the ASoG study referred above is the Performance Governance System (PGS) implemented in San Fernando City, Pampanga. The PGS uses a scorecard as a tool to monitor the performance of the LGU in achieving strategic targets that are set through a participatory planning process.

There is also an improved accountability effort in education service delivery of Calbayog City in the past two years. This is due to the participation of local CSOs of Calbayog City in community-based monitoring of education services (textbook delivery and classroom construction) using easy-to-use and simple tools. The project is in partnership with the Department of Education (DepEd) and Government Watch of Ateneo School of Government.

Naga City LSB, a best practice since under the leadership of the late Sec Jesse Robredo, implements a program called Quality Universal Elementary and High School Education in Naga (QUEEN), which provides assistance to all Nagaueño youth who should be in primary and secondary schools, ensuring sufficient supply of education inputs (textbooks, classrooms, chairs, teachers, and supplies) in public schools of Naga City.

Need for meaningfully engagement

There is still much room for improvement in making use of the existing mechanisms for citizen participation in local education governance.

The same ASoG study noted that compliance to the most basic requirement of the LSBs, the number of mandated CSO representatives in LSBs was only 28 (70%) out of the 40 randomly-sampled cities despite over 20 years of implementation of the LGC. The number of LSB meetings was at 3-4 meetings a year on the average, which is way below the mandated number of LSB meetings (at least 12 meetings a year).

Given that these are mere procedural requirements, the low compliance to these requirements is a major issue. This becomes more critical given the low prioritization of education spending noted in the said ASoG study.

Many cities only allocated an average of 7.7% of its GF for education. Utilization of SEF was also problematic since only one out of the 40 randomly-sampled cities showed 100% utilization rate, with the average utilization rate only at 81.7%. This indicates inefficiencies.

Moreover, the said ASoG study also noted the tendency of the plans of the LSBs to largely coincide with the LCEs’ priorities. This indicates a reversal of the relationship assumed in participatory governance.

Instead of the LSBs serving as a participatory mechanism to generate inputs from actors outside government, it becomes a “rubber stamp” of decisions and plans of the head officials of government. Such is a danger that exists in participatory mechanisms if these are not substantively engaged.

This shows that the presence of participatory mechanisms does not automatically lead to responsive governance or the prioritization and utilization of the budget for a critical service such as education. These mechanisms will have to be fully utilized by CSOs and citizens capable in effectively engaging all levels of governance, especially accountability.

Meaningful and substantive participation of CSOs and citizens in these mandated participatory mechanisms will ensure that these participatory mechanisms serve as avenues for genuine engagement between citizens and government that ensures responsive and quality education services in our public schools. – Rappler.com

Joy Aceron is Director of Government Watch (G-Watch) and Political Democracy and Reforms (PODER), programs that aim to strengthen democracy in the country.​ She is also the principal investigator for the study cited in this article entitled "Civil Society Participation and Education Spending of Philippine Cities." The other members of the ASoG research team for the said study are Rafaela David, Maien Vital, Julius Santos, and Krisna Parrera. For a full copy of the study, please contact PODER-Ateneo School of Government at (02) 920-2920 / political_democracy [at] yahoo.com. This article was first published in http://www.rappler.com/move-ph/47085-citizens-help-improve-education-governance.