Joblessness leaves parents struggling to pay school fees
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A growing unemployment rate and a shrinking economy have left many South African parents struggling to pay children’s school fees, a trend that negatively affects school budgets.
According to Tenant Profile Network Credit Bureau, a shrinking economy over the past 18 months has left many South Africans under financial pressure. In turn, this has affected schools around the country as parents prioritise paying other categories of consumer credit, such as mortgages or rent, credit facilities, secured credit and even unsecured credit, rather than their children’s school fees.
The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns resulted in a larger proportion of parents not paying school fees in full. Given that schools rely on this income to meet their operational costs, the knock-on effect of this non-payment is that schools are struggling to meet their financial commitments.
Chief executive of TPN Credit Bureau, Michelle Dickens, said as a result of these challenges, 66% of government schools and 65% of private schools had been forced to make budget cuts since the onset of the pandemic.
“Only 23% of government schools and 26% of private schools managed their budgets on the fees collected, while 11% of government schools and 9% of private schools were forced to use their reserves to cover expenses.
“A total of 34% of government schools and 62% of private schools prioritised payroll during the pandemic, while 42% of government schools and 15% of private schools prioritised capex projects.”
Before the pandemic, 75% of parents were able to pay their school fees.
“In 2020, during the pandemic, only 45% of parents had the ability to pay school fees. Parents have continued to struggle in 2021 financially, prioritising housing, groceries, transport and health ahead of paying school fees,” Dickens said.
Advocate Francois Botes said, legally, every child had the right to attend a government school in the vicinity where he or she lived. If the parents cannot afford to pay school fees, they can apply to the school or the Department of Education to be excused from paying.
Botes also said the state or the department had no legal right to summon parents for outstanding school fees or to sequester their estates in a bid to recover the outstanding fees if they can prove that they are unable to pay.
“The situation regarding private schools is different because parents conclude a contract with the school whereby they undertake to pay the school fees diligently as stipulated in the contract. If the parents of children in private schools do not pay their fees, which they had agreed to pay via the contract, the school is allowed to issue summons against the parents and even turn to court in a bid to retrieve the fees,” he said.
Last year the father of a Grade 10 learner at a private school based in
Soshanguve asked the court for an urgent order that the school could not give the learner the boot due to non-payment of school fees.
In his case, he was in arrears by more than R54 000 in school fees. He then asked the court to overlook his non-payment, and to order the school to take his child back.
The father, a member of the SANDF, who had been placed on pension for health reasons, said his child had been at the school for the past two years.
Gauteng High Court, Pretoria Judge Anneli Basson made it clear at the time that the courts could not force a private school to continue to teach a learner when the child’s school fees were in arrears.
Judge Basson said, unlike the situation with government schools, parents who sent their children to private schools signed a contract with that school as to who would be liable for the fees.
The father’s application was dismissed and the judge said the father must take his school fees issue up with his former employer, as it had nothing to do with the private school.