Our Education Secretary Bro. Armin A. Luistro, FSC, in coordination with Education Undersecretary for Finance Francisco Varela, issued Department of Education (DepEd) Order (DO) 11, series of 2015, entitled “Policy Guidelines on the Implementation of Senior High School (SHS) Voucher Program under the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (GASTPE) Program,” on April 10, 2015. This DO outlines the guidelines on the implementation of the DepEd’s SHS program, which will take effect on school year (SY) 2016-2017 for Grade 11 and on SY 2017-2018 for Grade 12.
The order is based, among others, on our students’ constitutional right to access to quality education. Thus, Article 14, Section 1 of our Constitution provides: “The State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels of education and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all.” Corollary to this, the State is, likewise, mandated under Section 2 to “(e)stablish and maintain a system of scholarship grants, student-loan programs and subsidies, and other incentives which shall be available to deserving students in both public and private schools, especially to the underprivileged.”
The highlights of the DO are as follows:
- The DepEd intends to implement a voucher-type subsidy for all eligible students enrolling in private high schools, public or private higher-education institutions (HEIs), and technical-vocational institutions (also called as “non-DepEd schools”).
- All Grade 10 students, who finish from public junior high schools (JHSs), are automatically eligible to receive vouchers and are entitled to the full value of the voucher. Grade 10 completers from private JHS, who are Education Service Contracting (ESC) grantees, will receive 80 percent of full voucher value automatically.
- Although vouchers are automatically given to all public school Grade 10 completers and ESC recipients, it is not expected that all of them will avail themselves of the voucher program, considering the availability of DepEd and non-DepEd schools in the area, their willingness and capacity to pay “tuition top-ups,” or their preference for local DepEd schools. The DepEd estimates that around 40 percent of the public Grade 10 completers will shift to non-DepEd schools in SHS every school year starting 2016.
- Vouchers must be used in the school year immediately following the JHS completion. The SHS voucher shall cover two years of SHS, regardless of whether the voucher recipient decides to transfer to another non-DepEd school within those two years.
- All non-DepEd schools with an SHS permit from the DepEd can accept voucher students. Vouchers can be redeemed in any region, and the value is determined by the location of the non-DepEd SHS. (Full SHS voucher value in the National Capital Region (NCR) is P22,500; in other highly urbanized cities (HUC) outside the NCR is P20,000; and in non-HUCs is P17,500.
- Non-DepEd providers may be allowed to charge “top-up” in cases, where the voucher subsidy is less than the tuition charge.
- A management information system shall be developed to facilitate the effective administration and monitoring of the voucher program.
The conclusion of the DO captures the whole rationale for the DepEd’s SHS voucher system: “The proposed system empowers families to make choices about where to enroll in SHS, thereby equalizing opportunity for less-affluent families. Enabling public-school students to enroll in non-DepEd schools will decrease the potential for congestion in public schools, thereby improving the learning environment in DepEd SHSs. The program can also increase the diversity of SHS providers by stimulating private provision while providing private schools with a more diverse student population.”
Lawyer Toni Umali is the current assistant secretary for Legal and Legislative Affairs of the DepEd. He is licensed to practice law not only in the Philippines, but also in the state of California and some federal courts in the United States after passing the California State Bar Examinations in 2004. He has served as a legal consultant to several legislators and local chief executives. As education assistant secretary, he was instrumental in the passage of the K to 12 law and the issuance of its implementing rules and regulations. He is also the alternate spokesman of the DepEd.