PACT budget details $384M in education spending over 2 years

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Including operating expenses, capital projects and transfer payments, the PACT government is requesting total expenditure appropriations of nearly $385 million for the Ministry of Education over the next two years, according to the government’s main budget document, the ‘2022 and 20223 Plan and Estimates’.

Total appropriations for 2021 are estimated to be about $181 million.

For the year 2022, lawmakers are proposing a $112 million operating budget for the ministry, rising to $120 million in 2023.

That’s a yearly increase of 6% from the $106 million forecast budget for 2021, followed by another increase of 7% in 2023.

In total, the two-year combined operating budget of $232 million accounts for about 12% of core government spending. For context, the government spent $86 million on education in 2018 and $95 million in 2019.

As it has under this PACT government, education took top billing in Premier Wayne Panton’s address when unveiling the budget last week.

Panton referred to plans to design and build new facilities at Theoline McCoy Primary School in Bodden Town, Joanna Clark Primary School in Savannah and Layman Scott High School in Cayman Brac, as well as plans to expand the Lighthouse School.

On top of operating expenses, the budget calls for earmarking about $74 million for capital projects — including $35 million for the new John Gray High School project and $34 million for other schools.

Additionally, more than $22 million is reserved for the government’s free school meals programme, with more than $7 million to be spent in 2022 and about $15 million in 2023 (when the programme expands to include secondary schools).

The government estimates it will spend about $3 million on the free school meals programme in the fall 2021 semester.

In his address, Panton spoke at length about the free school meals programme and discussed factors inside the home that can affect students’ performance at school.

With 968 civil servants on staff (full-time equivalent), the Ministry of Education is one of the largest single areas of government. The budget projects the number of staff members to stay about the same in 2022 but to rise to 1,079 in 2023, an increase of more than 11%.

In all, personnel costs account for nearly 70% of the ministry’s total operating costs which is on par with recent years. For 2022, 51% of personnel costs are for salary, and 14% goes to healthcare.

The budget also includes $10 million per year in funding for local and overseas scholarships, which is a reduction of 39% from the nearly $17 million projected for 2021, and is about equal to what was budgeted in 2020.

The government is doubling the amount of funds given directly to private schools from $1 million in 2021 to $2 million in 2022 and in 2023.

That line item had originally been zeroed out in the 2021 budget before being re-funded after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally, the government is more-than-tripling the amount of funds for ‘Private and Public School Grants’. That item was increased to $750,000 (from the original $125,000) in 2020 due to COVID. The government estimates it will spend $375,000 on the programme in 2021, and proposes increasing spending to $1.4 million per year in 2022 and 2023.

In his response to the budget policy statements, Opposition Leader Roy McTaggart largely exempted education plans from overall criticism of the PACT’s plans.

“Indeed, I believe that the adoption of our education minister [Juliana O’Connor-Connolly]  by the Premier and the PACT government is the best endorsement of the education programme and policies which she as a Minister in the Progressives-led Administration promoted and our government adopted,” he said according to a copy of his remarks emailed by the Progressives.

He said, “If we have any disagreement with the Minister of Education, it is possibly over the details of how she proposes to achieve her goals, not with the ambition for improvement that she has maintained from her time working with us as a Minister. On this side of the House, we have confidence that if she is given the support she needs, the Minister of Education can continue to deliver Improvements.”

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