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House panel OKs bill expanding DepEd's largest private school scholarship program

MANILA, Philippines — The House basic education panel on Monday approved a measure that includes kindergarten and elementary school students in the Department of Education’s largest private school scholarship program.

The proposed Expanded Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education Act (E-GASTPE) aims to extend the financial support provided by DepEd to private school students. Under this proposed law, students in all levels of basic education, not just high school, will be eligible for tuition fee subsidies.

The still-unnumbered substitute House bill was approved “in principle” pending amendments based on DepEd's planned revision of its criteria for the recognition of private schools.

House basic education committee chair Rep. Roman Romulo (Pasig, Lone District) and principal author of one of the bills consolidated in the measure said that "a new law upgrading the EGASTPE is imperative” given the dip in enrollment in private schools during the pandemic. Based on DepEd records in 2022, at least 425 private schools have shut down since 2020.

“Private educational institutions are currently afflicted with challenges. In 2020 during the first year of the pandemic, their enrollment dropped by 48%. Prior to that, numerous students had already transferred to public schools due to the abrupt migration of teachers,” the explanatory note of House Bill 928 stated. 

“This predicament also affects the public schools, which are forced to accommodate the increased enrollment,” it added.

The substitute bill renames the government’s voucher program to the “Basic Education Voucher Program" to cover all private school students from kindergarten to secondary (junior and senior high school) enrolled in DepEd-recognized private schools.

DepEd will determine the amount of tuition fee subsidies to be given to students, and the overall budget for the voucher program will “be equitably allocated and distributed among all regions … based on official data sources including, but not limited to, congestion data and open seats, giving priority to underprivileged students,” according to the bill.

During the basic education committee’s discussions on the measure, Romulo