School fee issue: More questions than answers

The government's directive that private schools reduce tuition fee by 30% has pit school managements against parents. Meanwhile, students and teachers are the sufferers in the face-off.

As this academic year is coming to a close, students in Bengaluru’s private unaided schools are in a dilemma. The state government’s recent decision to slash tuition fee in these schools by 30% has led to protests from school managements and a section of teachers, while many parents are demanding transparency and accountability from the managements.

Hariprakash Agarwal says his daughter’s school blocked her access to online classes last August. The state government had passed orders last April and May that schools should not hike fees this year on account of COVID, but the school was collecting the usual 10% fee hike, he says. “I wrote to the school management 5-6 times over a period of two months, but on August 5, my daughter’s classes were blocked,” he said. He is now part of a group called Voice of Parents (VOP), which comprises around 5,300 parents who are demanding reduced fees this academic year.

No transparency, say parents

Hariprakash says his concern is not so much about paying the full fee as understanding the fee structure itself. “We are ok with different school’s differing fee structure – for example, the same product from different companies are charged differently.

The issue is value for money – the school was offering facilities like swimming pool, field trips, etc., until now, but not this year.” He says there is no clarity on how schools decide on the fee amount; the break-up of fees is not mentioned anywhere.

Read more: “Have MRP on school-fees”

Mohamed Shakeel, President of VOP, says schools charge fees under multiple heads like e-campus, computer classes, etc., whereas they have to get fees approved as per a government-prescribed formula.

There are three heads under which schools in Bengaluru can levy fees:

  • Tuition fees (which includes the fee of all teaching and non-teaching staff, plus this same amount for school’s expenditures)
  • Term fee, which is 10% of the tuition fee (only for classes 6 to 10) and is supposed to cover costs of extra-curricular activities
  • Special Development fee, which is capped at Rs 2,500
  • Fee collected for any other purpose – such as sports, transport, special subject teaching fees, etc – should be justified.

As per the Karnataka Educational Institutions Act and its Rules, schools have to upload the breakup of fees under these three heads, and upload it in the government’s SATS (Student Achievement Tracking System) website. Any additional fees collected for purposes like special subject teaching fees, transport facility, sports, etc., should be mentioned additionally and justified.

In 2019, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) directed all private schools – irrespective of Board affiliation – to upload these details for the upcoming year, based on directions from the Karnataka High Court and a gazette notification by the state government.

Schools also had to upload details of the previous year’s audit report, teaching resources, etc. But in early 2020, KAMS (Associated Managements of Primary and Secondary Schools in Karnataka) informed DPI that they got a stay order on schools publishing their fee structure, and hence no action was taken against non-complying schools. Currently, most schools have not uploaded fee details on SATS website.

Mohamed says, “COVID has had financial implications in all industries and professions. How can schools be immune to this? The 70% tuition fee payment ordered by the government will cover both teachers’ fee and school expenses. Power costs, maintenance costs, etc., have reduced for schools.”

He says the larger issue is about several other violations by schools. For example, some schools require parents to pay fee and then ‘re-enroll’ the child every year, whereas the child needs to be enrolled only once as per the Right To Education (RTE) Act.

Schools have said that teachers’ salaries would be affected if parents don’t pay full fees. Mohamed claimed that VOP had evidence that, on average, 30% of the staff in private schools had been fired from them jobs. [Citizen Matters has not been able to verify this claim.] “And, of the remaining 70%, many are not getting full salary, they are being paid less than half the salary (based on online classes or content generation) or are paid as per hours of work.

Impact greater than 30%, say school managements

In a recent video, the school managements’ association KAMS says that the impact of 30% fee cut will in fact be way higher for schools. There have been no entry-level (LKG/1st standard) admission in most budget schools, hence the fee from one grade is almost entirely lost. Schools already face some income loss from children enrolled under RTE quota since the government pays a fixed amount of Rs 16,000 each on their behalf. Besides, the government is yet to pay this reimbursement to schools.

On top of this, if a fee concession of 30% is given, the loss would be over 34% for a budget school with annual fees of Rs 20,000. For a school that levies Rs 40,000 as annual fees, the loss from the RTE-section students would be higher, and hence the total loss would work out to around 43%, the video says. In addition to this, KAMS estimates that 10% of the students have transferred out of schools as usual or moved to government schools this year.

A management representative in a private school says that many schools have already given concessions to parents in financial distress. “Also, in entry-level classes, some parents have deferred admissions too – they have paid part of the fees only. In normal course, the admission would be cancelled, but this year schools have deferred these admissions.”

Read more: “Parents don’t understand economics of running a school”

Also, “since Bengaluru has a large floating population, a section of students from other cities transfer into private schools here every year. These students have not come in this year,” he says.

He believes budget schools are the worst-hit. While elite schools often collect fees before the start of the academic year, budget schools usually collect it on a monthly basis. “Their model is that parents have to pay all the dues before the final exam. Budget schools are the majority of schools in Bengaluru. Many of these schools have not got dues pending even from the last academic year since COVID came in March 2020; and definitely not the fees this year. They have not been able to cover the syllabus or hold online classes effectively.”

He says the 30% fee cut ordered by government is arbitrary. “What is the logic behind the 30%? We are part of a democracy, and we should be able to have a dialogue. There should be a decent dialogue between parents and schools, and concessions should be given on a case-to-case basis.” Else the fee cut could affect the future of schools and quality education. “Schools still need to pay their landlords, banks and staff. All expenses other than electricity bills remain. If neither parents nor the government is footing the bills, we will see schools closing down and teachers losing jobs in the next few years,” says he.

Teachers suffer, COVID or not

‘Teachers Unite’, an association of teachers in Bengaluru, was among the 11 groups that supported the protest against fee cut on February 23. A petition on, as part of their campaign, requested Education Minister Suresh Kumar to allow private schools to collect full tuition fee.

The petition said that teachers have lost their jobs or full salaries despite the tremendous amount of work they have done for online classes, and that the fee cut would worsen their situation. Instead of imposing a fee cut, the government should support schools that need financial assistance to pay salaries or train teachers, should vaccinate teachers and school staff on priority, pay schools the dues for RTE-quota students, etc.

Read more: Ending the tug-of-war on school fees

However, many teachers are not in favour of the protest. Ravi, based in Yelahanka, says he has been a school teacher for over 10 years but still gets paid a pittance. “I have an MA and BEd in Kannada. In 2010, I got my first job in a mid-level school (which collects annual fee of Rs 25,000-30,000 from students), teaching classes 8 to 10. But even in 2018, my salary had increased to only Rs 16,500 per month, whereas as per law and Supreme Court orders, my minimum salary should have been around Rs 33,000,” he says.

When he asked the school for salary of Rs 20,000 he was told to look for another job. “I then joined a PU college which paid Rs 12,000 per month for part-time work (three days per week), and I took up tuition or other work the rest of the time. But last year, the college was turned into a COVID facility and there was no work – the college prioritised only core subjects for online classes,” he says “The college has not paid me in the last 10 months. I have gone back to working part-time at my previous institution for around Rs 5000-8000 per month; they pay per hour of work done.”

Ravi says he may get his job back at the college the next academic year. Even ensuring food has been difficult during the pandemic, he says.

Representational image. Children are the biggest victims in the fight over school fees.

Throughout his career, he has not received proper appointment letters, and salary payment has always been by cash and not cheque/online transactions. He says the scenario is the same with the majority of school teachers in the city. “There is no job security or payment of minimum wages. Unqualified people are employed as teachers and paid very low wages. There’s no evidence for my job – I don’t have an ID card or appointment letter, and don’t get mandated benefits like ESI and PF.”

Ravi is now a member of the private school teachers’ association Karnataka Khasagi Shikshakara Balaga. He believes teachers wouldn’t get paid even if parents pay the full fee this year. “Parents have been paying full fees every year, but managements are not paying us. For this, education department has to ensure that schools follow laws. When schools apply NOC to renew their registration, they should be asked to provide details of accounts, including payment to teachers.”

Nagesh C N, President of the association, says he has received distress messages from teachers across the state, including Bengaluru, during COVID. “We have been collecting donations through our association and passing it on to teachers in need.

Teachers who didn’t take online classes have not been paid, and many of those who did take classes have been paid only around 30% of their salaries. Sometimes one teacher is fired or not paid, and another teacher is asked to cover their portions too in the online classes,” says Nagesh who is based out of Hassan. He says their association currently has 1.48 lakh members across Karnataka, including 180 in Bengaluru.

[As the author was unable to reach the officials concerned, the government response on the issue will be updated as soon as it is received]

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