Western Cape Education Department flounders in wake of national budget cuts

Influx from the Eastern Cape and the lack of authority for the province to set its own budget or create its own standards have created a perfect storm





Jan 9, 2024

Western Cape Education Department flounders in wake of national budget cuts

The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) is facing a significant challenge in accommodating thousands of learners who have yet to secure placement for the 2024 academic year. Despite a budget cut of R716.4 million and schools operating at full capacity, the department is promising that other avenues will be sought to accommodate the influx.

The Western Cape suffers from a combination of constitutional and national restrictions. The provinces, under the constitution, do not have the power to dictate their own budgets, and must seek national Treasury approval each year, and depend on the Treasury for 97% of their funding, having little means to collect own revenue.

With the national government unable to curtail civil service salaries due to political reliance on trade union support, the necessary cuts in the budget caused by a crumbling tax base have been passed onto the provinces, where schools and hospitals are now facing catastrophic shortages.

National standards for education also place requirements for schools which are difficult for most schools to meet, including requirements for outdoor sports facilities, which are the source of most budget outlays. This makes providing leaner, exclusively academic-focused schools legally challenging, even for the private sector.

To address the surge in demand, the WCED has devised plans to construct nine new schools and add 496 classrooms in high-demand areas. This ambitious initiative is aimed at accommodating the anticipated influx of applications during the first term of the new school year.

As of December 11th last year, a remarkable 99.43% of Grade 1 and Grade 8 learners, totaling 120,778, had already secured placements for the upcoming academic year. However, late applications continue to stream in, prompting Western Cape Minister of Education David Maynier to urge parents to collaborate with the department to expedite placements.

Despite the budget constraints, the WCED's revised plan seeks to deliver 608 additional classrooms across the province, more than double the average number built annually before the 2022/2023 academic year. Officials and schools are working tirelessly under intense pressure to ensure every child finds a place, leaving no stone unturned in the placement effort.

Maynier acknowledged the uncertainty posed by thousands of learners expected to apply during the first term, making it challenging to plan resource allocation in advance. He emphasized the difficulty in predicting factors such as grades, languages, ages, and subject choices for these late applicants, and parents might have to wait before their child secures a placement.

With Western Cape schools already operating at full capacity, Maynier appealed for patience from parents submitting new applications, cautioning that placements might not occur before the end of the first term. Despite the complex landscape, the department remains committed to placing every learner, emphasizing collaboration with parents to navigate this unprecedented challenge.

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