Johannesburg - The public protector’s office has asked the SA Human Rights Commission to investigate allegations of maladministration against five provincial departments of education for failing to correctly subsidise qualifying independent schools.

The case was initially submitted to the public protector’s office by the National Alliance of Independent Schools Associations early last month against the KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Eastern Cape and North West education departments for failing to subsidise the schools correctly.

The association’s executive director, Dr Jane Hofmeyr, said the incorrect, late and, in some cases, non-payment of subsidies was threatening the financial sustainability of about 630 independent schools and 130 000 pupils in the five provinces.

She said only low-fee schools that charge less than R6 000 a year qualify for the subsidies.

For most of these schools, which mostly catered to poor communities, 50 percent of their revenue comes from the subsidies, Hofmeyr said.

By law, the government is not obliged to subsidise independent schools, but once provincial departments agree to do so, they must abide by the national norms and standards that govern independent-school subsidies. These are similar to the norms and standards that guide funding for public schools.

In her response to the submission, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela said: “The alleged conduct of the [provincial departments] of education, if proven to be true, will have a negative effect on the observance of section 29 of the constitution, which guarantees the right to education.”

Madonsela has sent a copy of the association’s submission to the HRC to investigate the human rights aspect of the case, and “to take steps and secure redress where human rights have been violated”.

The association’s chairman, Sandile Ndaba, said the association welcomed Madonsela’s view that the right to basic education was at stake.

He said the incorrect payment of subsidies meant teachers were underpaid, or were not paid at all, and in some cases were retrenched.

“In a number of cases, principals have even taken out personal loans to bridge the shortfalls,” Ndaba said, adding that, in the worst-case scenario, schools were forced to close down.

“If these independent schools closed, it would also cost the state significantly more to educate the learners in public schools than the cost of the schools’ subsidies,” he added.

The commission’s head of communications, Isaac Mangena, confirmed that the HRC had received the submission from the Public Protector’s office.

Mangena said the commission was looking at the possibility of a collaborative investigation with the Public Protector’s office on aspects of the case regarding maladministration and the possibility of corruption.

The Star