Haynes: Schools seek ‘donations’ because ministry mismanages $$ allocations

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Opposition MP Anita Haynes –

OPPOSITION MP Anita Haynes has defended schools that ask parents for donations on student registration, as she believes it’s a direct result of the Education Ministry’s “mismanagement of budgetary allocations.”

Recently, there have been debates on social media on student registration fees at schools, after one post claimed a popular secondary school in south Trinidad has a registration fee of $3,000.

The Education Ministry has since ordered all schools up to the secondary level to stop asking parents for contributions during new students’ registration with immediate effect.

“While there are no registration fees associated with public ECCE, primary or secondary schools, a practice has developed, over many years, of asking parents to donate or contribute to the school at registration,” a release said.

It said while the ministry is aware that such financial contributions are helpful to schools, requesting them has “had, over time, the effect of making what should be voluntary seem mandatory.

“This perception effectively nullifies the policy of the Government of TT, which is to offer free education.”

It added that parents and the general public have been experiencing anxiety because of this practice.

However, it said outside the registration period, principals may ask parents for voluntary financial contributions for school initiatives “from time to time.”

In a release on Monday, Haynes said the ministry neglected to inform parents, students and stakeholders how the government plans to address the “woeful shortage of resources faced by many secondary schools.

“The root of the issue is not that schools are forced to seek financial contributions from parents, but that the Ministry of Education has failed to execute its fiduciary duty to students.”

She said school administrators have said the funds acquired through these means go towards the maintenance and repair of the school compound, as well as teaching and learning resources.

“It begs the question, having received some of the highest budgetary allocations in our nation’s history, what has the (ministry) done with the money? This is why I continue to argue that TT is not facing a resource problem. We are suffering from the incompetence and mismanagement of those in office.”

In the 2023 budget, the Education Ministry was allocated $7.453 billion.

Haynes said the government has not addressed ongoing issues at schools like overcrowding, staffing shortages, infrastructure and maintenance, declining student performance rates and provisions for students with special needs.

“In a recent joint select committee meeting it was revealed that individual schools must raise funds in order to provide students with integral experiences such as sports and family days. It goes without saying that many schools would be at a disadvantage as a result,” Haynes said.

She said when compared to the UNC-led government, the difference is “stark,” because the UNC understood “investment in our people is the most important of all.

“Whether we are talking about the gap in resources or the gaps in student performance, the (ministry) has a role to ensure equitable access to quality education for all students in our school system. The minister must undertake this mandate for the sake of our young people.”