The Western Cape Education Department is doing everything it can to build new schools at a faster rate than ever before, through our Rapid School Build programme, despite a massive R716.4 million blow to our budget.
Over the past 5 years, on average, the number of learners in Western Cape schools has increased by 19 000 each year, and additional learners continue to need places every year.
To address the demand for placement, the Western Cape government passed the largest budget for education that our province has ever seen in March 2023, including a R2.9 billion infrastructure plan to build 21 new schools and 289 additional classrooms at schools.
The plan was to build on the success of the Rapid School Build programme implemented in 2022, and our delivery of 788 additional classrooms for the 2023 school year, which was a dramatic increase in the pace of delivery compared to previous years.
However, in June 2023, our plans came to an immediate halt when the National Treasury indicated that there would be serious cuts to our provincial funding.
Frustratingly, we had no choice but to pull the handbrake on spending until further clarity was provided.
This created an environment of uncertainty, with an immediate impact on our plans for infrastructure, as we could not enter into contractor agreements without having certainty that we would have the funds to pay them.
The National Treasury has decided not to provide all of the funding owed to our province to cover the wage increase it negotiated for public service in this financial year. Instead, our department will receive only 64% of the funding due to us, which means we are being short-changed by R537m.
This is why the Western Cape Government has declared an inter-governmental dispute on the shortfall for funding the increased wage bill with the national government to ensure that we get our fair share.
At the same time, the Department of Basic Education cut:
Our conditional grants by R179.4m. The Education Infrastructure Grant by R156.9m.
The maintenance component of the Early Child Development Grant by R14.0m.
The Maths, Science and Technology Grant by R4.3m.
The HIV Grant by R3.1m.
The Expanded Public Works Programme Grant by R207 000.
In other words, the national government has dealt a massive R716.4 million blow to our ability to build and maintain schools, and pay teachers. As a result, we face a R248m cut, specifically to our infrastructure budget within the financial year.
Despite the blow, we are fighting hard to expand the number of places available at schools in the Western Cape.
We will build 10 new schools to accommodate the learners applying for the 2024 school year.
In total, our revised plan aims to deliver 608 additional classrooms across the province, which is more than double the average number built annually before 2022/2023, despite the infrastructure budget cut.
We continue to battle those who seek to exploit, disrupt and criminally damage our school construction sites, and will not back down in our fight against the construction Mafia.
We will do everything we can to overcome the challenges, with the support of our school communities, officials, contractors and local government partners, so that we can find a place for all the learners whose parents have applied.
* David Maynier.
* ** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.