Department taken to court over pupil funding

The embattled Eastern Cape Department of Education is being dragged to court again – this time for stopping funding for pupils who do not have identity, passport or permit numbers.

Represented by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), the Centre for Child Law and the school governing body of Phakamisa High School in Zwide have launched an application in the Grahamstown High Court to have the department’s decision declared unconstitutional.

The application seeks to have the department’s decision set aside and for it to revise post establishments and funding in line with actual numbers of pupils, regardless of their registration status.

However, the department said yesterday it was not acting maliciously by deciding to stop the funding but had stopped it as a means of curbing wasteful expenditure and the ghost pupil problem.

Since March last year, the department has been making payments to schools based on the number of pupils with valid documentation instead of the school’s total pupil enrolment.

This includes all funding to schools in quintiles 1-3 for school nutrition programmes, pupil-teacher support materials, textbooks, stationery, municipal services and maintenance.

Department spokesman Malibongwe Mtima said because the issue was now before the court, it was sub judice.

However, he said the department had been lambasted in the past for not having measures in place to guard against wasteful expenditure.

“In the past we have had schools that could not account for the learners. We now want them to prove that these learners exist,” he said.

“We want them to do a head count and verify the number by providing identification numbers.

“Many schools are saying they have this amount of learners but there are no legal documents proving this.

“We are simply asking the school to provide documents.”

He said the onus was also on parents and guardians to obtain valid identification documents or temporary permits for children for schools to ensure verification.

“That is all we are appealing for,” he said.

But according to LRC attorney Cameron McConnachie, it had taken into account that the department was requesting identification documents to safeguard against ghost pupils.

“The LRC commends the steps the department has taken to ensure learner numbers are accurate. However, if a learner exists they should be funded,” he said.

“The department needs to find other ways and should go and verify learner numbers.”

The LRC said many schools had been affected by the department’s decision and did not have sufficient teachers or budget.

“The application argues that, by withdrawing funding, the department is violating the learners’ constitutional right to basic education, particularly when it is read in conjunction with the learners’ rights to dignity and the right to equality and non-discrimination,” the LRC said.

“The funding failure is also a gross violation of the learners’ constitutional rights to basic nutrition and access to sufficient food.

“Furthermore, the decision to exclude learners without identity numbers, passports or permits is not in the best interest of the child and violates the constitution.”

It said that in the past schools were funded based on actual numbers, regardless of whether they had valid identity, passport and permit numbers, not on those registered in the system.

“Without funding provided for learners without identity, passport and permit numbers, schools will have less to spend on learners registered in the system, compromising their education and nutrition.

“To support those not registered, schools will either have to fund-raise for their shortfall or ask unregistered learners to leave.”

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