Govt. increases uniform voucher to $2,000
– has sights on evidence-based interventions to support families
Government has upped the uniform allowance voucher to public school children to $2,000. The voucher sum formerly amounted to $1,500. The announcement of the increase was made by Finance Minister Winston Jordan, when he presented the 2015 National Budget in the National Assembly yesterday. In his presentation he noted that “this will benefit more than 167,000 students at a cost of over $337 million.” The Finance Minister also disclosed yesterday that persons receiving payment for sewing uniforms in remote hinterland locations will now received a 25 percent increase on the amount from $800 to $1,000. “This increases the disposable income of those hired while benefiting 33,000 students,” informed the Minister. However, this $500 addition to the uniform voucher may not find favour with all stakeholders. A letter inked by the Red Thread organization in July had in fact proposed that the voucher be increased to $15,000. The letter even offered a detail breakdown of how that sum could be spent to cater to the schooling needs of children. The uniform voucher is usually afforded to parents of public school children at the end of the school year. This however did not occur this year given the fact that the national budget was not presented and consideration was being given by Government to increase the voucher sum. Minister of Education, Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine a few weeks ago informed that his Ministry will soon be issuing public announcements of how, when and where the vouchers will be available. According to him, given the fact that Government has placed a hold on the $10,000 ‘Because We Care’ cash grant, consideration was being given to have money for that programme diverted elsewhere. He noted that the school feeding programme and the uniform voucher programmes could be among those likely to be boosted by funds that would have gone towards the cash grant. “There is a real possibility that we will increase, but I have to see how the money plays out,” the Minister had intimated. According to the Finance Minister yesterday, with regard to inclusive and equitable access, while “we have been able to expand provision of education, and have seen an increase in net enrolment rates, we need to determine how successful we have been in providing and expanding access to education for the most marginalized groups in the country.” As such he noted that Government will seek to ensure that the system does not perpetuate inequalities by differential levels of access to certain groups, based on their geographical location and ability to take advantage of educational opportunities. Moreover, he spoke of plans to adopt an approach that is grounded in systems-based reforms, and evidence-based policy-making, to achieve the education sector’s goals. Minister Jordan, in drawing attention to the cash grant, which was launched under the former People’s Progressive Party/Civic administration, asserted that initiatives to expand access to education will not hinge on reactive and broad-brush approaches. This he mentioned was evident in the hastily-contrived unconditional transfer of funds to families, presumably to defray education costs. In the absence of a well-constructed framework for such cash transfer policies, that includes rigorous monitoring and evaluation, such policies represent no more than political gimmickry – creating unsustainable expectations, while entrenching a dependency mentality. However, the Finance Minister added that “this administration will focus on evidence-based interventions that aim to support families in meeting the monetary and non-monetary challenges of sending their children to school.” As a start to this approach, he said that the school uniform programme will be enhanced and the school feeding programme will be expanded with an emphasis on the hinterland locations. “We will focus more on whether or not students attend school regularly, whether they complete schooling, and whether they successfully transition into higher levels of education or into the workplace,” added the Finance Minister.