Putting education first

FOR ONLY the second time in recent memory, education has received the lion’s share of the national budget ahead of national security. This is a welcome development that sends an important signal but which, nonetheless, poses challenges and opportunities.

The first time education overtook national security was in the 2018 budget. For that year, education and training accounted for an initial $7.3 billion in expenditure, ahead of national security’s $6.2 billion. For 2020, however, the Government has gone even further. Expenditure for education and training is expected to reach $7.5 billion, while $6.4 billion is allocated for national security.

We’ve grown too accustomed to security having the biggest slice of the budget. The spending of billions of dollars has not had the kind of impact on crime and security as many would have liked. The high murder rate, the marginal decreases in serious offences, and the lingering dysfunction in the administration of funding to the Police Service have painted a picture of a system in which expenditure is not guaranteed to get results.

Without bolstering detection levels, without giving the police the precise tools they need, without investing in skills and talent, money is meaningless. We recommend an audit of the billions that have been spent over the last decade by the Police Service to better identify its needs and service them.

In contrast, in the last four years we have witnessed more than $28 billion being spent on education. And as noted by Finance Minister Colm Imbert on Monday, since the early 2000s, sustained public investment in early childhood care and education, vocational educational and skills training, primary, secondary and tertiary education has yielded high rates of enrolment and access across all education levels.

But the picture is mixed. The Rowley administration introduced cuts to the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses, on justifiable efficiency grounds. At the same time the administration is now bolstering spending on education as a whole in a manner potentially beneficial to all, not just tertiary students.

Improving infrastructure is now the focus. The Government has ascertained there is a need to complete and commission 27 “priority schools in the shortest possible time.”

In this regard, while bolstering school infrastructure is always welcomed, the Government should not rush the process of construction absent a clear plan for the sector and consultation. Furthermore, we need to hear more about the proposed reform of the infrastructure procurement processes.

Spending for national security is done behind a veil of secrecy due to the need to be sensitive to security concerns. But spending on education demands even greater levels of transparency and accountability in the award of contracts.

Election gimmick or no, the proposed spending on schools is an opportunity for the State to demonstrate the highest standards regarding public procurement while giving students the resources they need.


"Putting education first"

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