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DepEd's SHS vouchers fall short of decongesting public schools, helping poor learners

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Education's senior high school voucher program had mostly benefited non-poor students and largely failed to decongest public schools even as it forked over large sums of money for private schools to absorb students, new data shared during a Senate hearing showed.

Described as a "wastage" and a "leakage" by Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, DepEd's voucher program appears to have failed to help at least 542,000 senior high school students considered as "aisle learners" enroll in private schools in school year 2023-2024 alone. Aisle learners refer to students who already count outside the regular class size in school.

Meanwhile, DepEd data shows that 53% or P7.21 billion of the P13.69 billion allocation for the senior high school voucher program went to non-poor students in SY 2021-2022, or students whose families earned an income less than the poverty threshold. This was higher compared to SY 2019-2020, where 39% or P7.30 billion of the P18.76 billion budget for the senior high school voucher program also went to non-poor students.

These estimates by Gatchalian, who chairs the Senate basic education panel, are similar to the findings raised by the Commission on Audit in 2018 that the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (GASTPE) program — which the SHS vouchers are under — was benefiting “non-poor” students due to DepEd’s inability to ensure its efficient implementation. 

"It's a waste that we don't solve the problem of congestion because we are randomly giving the voucher program to students," the senator said.

Gatchalian pointed out during the March 20 hearing that DepEd should have established an effective "targeting mechanism" to ensure 
that the 1.2 million voucher beneficiaries this school year already included the 542,000 estimated aisle learners.

Citing data from the Annual Poverty Indicators surveys in 2020 and 2021, Gatchalian also said that the voucher program needs to be "corrected" immediately as 70% of the voucher recipients in SY 2021-2022 belonged to non-poor households.

"For me, it's wastage and leakage. We need to correct this immediately and I plan to raise this during our budget