Income analysis, user fees and parental costs
As well as understanding how money is spent, it is important to look at where it comes from – who contributes to the cost of education. This could include parents and guardians, private sector and businesses, NGOs and faith groups, as well as the government and (international) donors. Depending on who you are, the cost contribution you make is likely to give you different levels of power and influence over education policy and the school budget (directly or indirectly – i.e. an international donor is unlikely to influence a particular school budget, but may influence the policy agenda and national budget which in turn influences a school budget; while a parent may have more direct local influence, but within the policy framework set from above). It is also interesting to look at the different types of contribution – for example, are there some aspects of education which the government always provides (e.g. head teachers’ salary), and common costs passed onto parents (e.g. uniforms).
Although various countries now have free primary education policies, this is not necessarily the reality on the ground. Official user fees might have been abolished, but there are many hidden costs which parents are expected to contribute to, both financially and through in-kind donations. These vary greatly both within and between countries, and have significant impact in many places. Often the income generated through parental contributions and user fees is not included in the school budget, it is a hidden cost passed onto poor families and not accounted for in government expenditure. However, it is crucially important to quantify parental contributions, not least because the cost of education is one of the main factors keeping children from school – especially girls, orphans and vulnerable children. If the government is to achieve education for all, this hidden cost needs to be included, and national budgets need to show the real investments made in education. Moreover, these hidden costs often mean poor parents are paying twice for the education of their children. Once through general taxation and again directly to the school.
Work in this area could focus on local lobbying and campaigning to abolish locally applied costs of education, and national level campaigning to increase investment on education, and persuade governments to abolish the costs of education passed onto parents. The starting point should be a clear principle that no child should be excluded from school on the basis of inability to pay.
Don’t Pay Twice
Human Rights legislation means that education should be paid for by government, through revenue collection, and should be free on the point of use. Government collects taxes through a variety of means, through direct taxes (such as income, land, or company taxation) and indirect taxation (value added tax, VAT, on the sale of goods). Generally indirect tax, such as VAT is regressive, it impacts equally on anyone whoever buys a good no matter whether they are rich or poor, whereas indirect taxes are likely to be more progressive and redistributive as they are linked to an individual’s or business’ income or property. Many people are not aware that they are paying taxes and it is important to enable them to reflect on how much tax they are likely to be paying (and how many government services they are receiving in return). Awareness that they are paying will support people to demand the government fulfils its obligations on the right to education. Reflection questions include:
In what ways do people contribute to the cost of public services? i.e. different types of taxes and user fees?
How do we know what services we are paying for? E.g. do we pay for a specific service when we receive the service, or are taxes collected indirectly?
Is tax redistributive? Who pays? Who benefits?
Who makes the decisions about these charges, and how?
If the information is not available, it is worth discussing where the gaps in knowledge are, and why this might be.
It could be useful to develop an expenditure map, looking at where people spend money and what they spend it on. Analysis will then focus on whether the price of goods includes any VAT. For example, a bus fare may contribute to petrol taxes, road taxes as well as the driver’s salary and income tax. Dependent on context people may pay land and income tax in addition to indirect tax. Once an accurate picture of the level of tax contributions has been developed the group can reflect on what they are receiving in return for these contributions. Perhaps developing a campaign against the additional user fees or hidden costs in education, along the lines of ‘we will not pay twice for our education’. It is important to note that the aim of this exercise is not to stop people paying taxes; in fact further campaigning work might actually include a demand to expand the tax.