Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann on Wednesday banned private schools from making any fee increases in the upcoming academic session and also warned them against forcing parents to buy books, uniforms or stationery in some stores.
The move takes on significance as parents have been protesting private school tuition hikes for some years and the issue has grown in prominence over the past two years amid the disruption of the pandemic.
Parents have accused private schools of raising fees exorbitantly even as classes move online. Several complaints have also been filed with the state Department of Education against private schools alleging parents are being forced to pay fees during Covid as they suffer severe financial losses.
According to the latest data compiled by Department of Education, Punjab has 28,568 schools out of which 67% (nearly 19,200) are state run and the rest are private (affiliated), unaided, associated, Adarsh and other categories.
Out of nearly 9,000 private schools, 6,500 are part of the Punjab Federation of Private Schools and Associations. The majority of private schools (nearly 5,400) are affiliated with the Punjab School Education Board (PSEB), 1,481 are affiliated with the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and nearly a hundred with the ICSE.
Existing checks and balances
Private schools in Punjab are regulated under the Punjab Unaided Educational Institutions Fees Regulation Act 2016, which calls for the establishment of a “regulatory body” headed by a chairman and five other members to “verify marketing or profit”. The law also empowers the regulatory body to deal with complaints filed against private schools by parents regarding tuition fees and other issues. The divisional commissioner of the relevant division is the president of the regulator.
The law allows schools to increase fees by no more than 8% per year. However, Section 7 of the Act states that the regulator shall “(c) verify that the royalty structure is kept within limits…so as to avoid profiteering; (e) to verify the excessive raising of fees by an unsupported educational institution…”
Section 7(f) states that the regulator will ensure that any increase in fees undertaken by an unsupported educational institution is justified and necessitated by circumstances such as the increase in expenses or due to necessary development activities, and does not result in profit; “and (g) verify that funds levied on students are not diverted for other purposes”.
Article 5 of the law stipulates that an unaided educational establishment is competent to set its fees and that it can also increase them after taking into account the need to generate funds to operate the establishment and provide the necessary facilities for the benefit of the establishment. students “provided that the increase in fees does not exceed eight percent of the previous year’s fees…provided that, while fixing or raising fees, an institution cannot engage in profit and that he cannot charge a capitation fee”.
The law was amended in 2019 and Article 5 now also allows fees to be increased beyond 8%, but on the condition that the institution “must notify and display in a conspicuous place the proposed annual fee and funds to be billed one month before the start of admissions for the next academic session”.
In April 2013, the High Court of Punjab and Haryana had also constituted a fee regulation committee for unaided private schools headed by Justice Amar Dutt (retired), but it remained mostly on paper with hardly any achievement on field.
On uniforms and books
The law states that “parents are free to purchase these uniforms and books at any location they choose” if schools specify the purchase of specific uniforms and books. “However, the color and design and any other specifications of uniforms so notified shall not be changed for at least two years.”
‘Not a practical move’
Speaking to the Indian Express, Jagjit Singh Dhuri, Chairman of the Federation of Private Schools and Associations of Punjab, said he welcomes the government’s decision but to implement them practically, the state must contribute to the operation of private schools and treat them on an equal footing with the government. schools in some areas. He said the state government must first make education in private schools “tax-free”.
Dhuri, who is also president of Britannica International School, Ludhiana, said: “We welcome the announcements from the CM, but the state government should see the practical implementation first. First, it is not the schools’ job to supply books and uniforms to stores. We can post the uniform specs and book list on our website, but then it’s up to the merchants how they provide the same.”
“Second, during the pandemic, following the High Court order, schools did not increase fees in 2020-21. Then some schools also did not do so voluntarily in 2021-22. But so how are we supposed to give raises to teachers and other staff? Fuel prices are the direct indicator of how inflation has affected all sectors including teachers,” he said. he adds.
Speaking of taxes, Dhuri said that while public schools are charged for electricity at “domestic” rates, private schools are charged at “commercial” rates, which is much more expensive. “We also pay a special road tax in Punjab on school buses which does not exist in other states. We are proposing to reduce the transport fee by Rs 100 per child if the AAP Government of Punjab can waive these taxes, which only private schools pay,” Dhuri said.
“Whatever benefit the government gives us, we will pass it on to the parents. Moreover, even the state regulatory law allows an increase of 8% per year, because it is not a profit but a need to meet the basic expenses of running a school. We have already sent a representation to the CM explaining all the points but before making the announcement a meeting should have been called with stakeholders to include our concerns,” Dhuri said.
In the recent past, the issue of fees has taken an ugly turn in Punjab. In 2019, a teacher at a PSEB-affiliated school allegedly placed a “stamp” on the arm of a Class VII pupil to “remind” his parents of the pending fee. The child was the son of an autorickshaw driver. In 2016, a school in Ludhiana put the remark “failing” on student answer sheets. A regulated High Court panel later ordered the school to ‘reimburse’ the exorbitant fees levied on parents. The school has been accused of raising annual fees by 40% and tuition by 27%.