Many private schools are in a bind on the eve of admission season as the state is yet to announce compensation for reserving seats for poor students to study free in compliance with the right to education act.
“We are set to start the process of admitting students for the next academic session in a week or so. But the state government is still silent about how it would reimburse the expenditure to be incurred by us for setting aside one-fourth of the seats for poor students,” said Nabarun Dey, the general secretary of the Association of Heads of ICSE Schools.
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 makes it compulsory for all aided and unaided schools (except unaided minority institutions) to reserve 25 per cent seats for poor students who would not be charged any fees.
The law also makes it binding on the state governments to compensate private schools for maintaining the quota.
The Bengal government has already announced that the act will be fully implemented from 2013 and would apply in its entirety to all schools except the unaided minority ones.
“The government has started working on a compensation package for maintaining the quota for poor students,” an official in the school education department said.
“As of now, the government plans to fix the compensation at a rate equivalent to what it spends annually on a state-run school, like Hindu or Hare, in Calcutta. But we are not ruling out the possibility of paying a higher amount to schools that offer better facilities,” the official added.
He, however, failed to specify any date for announcing the package.
The owner of a school in south Calcutta said it was only after the government announced the formula that the institutions would be able to start the admission process.
“We immediately need to know the answers to some pertinent questions on the state government’s stand on the reimbursement issue — such as do we have to reserve seats for poor students in Nursery or KG?” said the principal of a prominent south Calcutta school.
The right to education act covers classes I to VIII but the entry level at most private English-medium schools is Nursery or KG.
“Suppose we have 100 seats in Nursery or KG. Then do we have to leave 25 seats vacant for one or two years to accommodate poor students in Class I? If we do so, will the government consider paying for the loss incurred for keeping the seats in Nursery and KG vacant?” asked the official.
The heads of around 150 private English-medium schools had demanded at a meeting with school education minister Bratya Basu and senior officials of his department a few months ago that the government announce the compensation package before Puja.
“We are aware that the amount the government can offer us would be less than what we spend per student per year. But we must know how much the government is willing to offer. Only then will we able to plan how we can bridge the deficit if we have to reserve one-fourth of seats for poor students and offer them free education,” said the principal of a private north Calcutta school affiliated to the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education.
Although Bengal has not yet drawn up a comprehensive plan to enable private schools to follow the rules framed under the right to education act, many states like Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh have finalised the compensation formula, said a member of the Association of the Heads of ICSE Schools, a platform for principals and owners of unaided ICSE schools in Bengal.