If school education is to be completely free, the infrastructure needs would further increase, since students who dropped out due to school fees may want to return.
In addition to the cost of secondary school, researchers have found that some students drop out because they don’t have uniforms and can’t pay for lunch.
If the cost of lunch and a uniform is not covered by the government, then the proposed policy should be called “free tuition”, Dr John Mugo, the country coordinator of Uwezo, an organisation that promotes literacy in East Africa, told Africa Check.
“(But) if that is the case, then we should call that free tuition, because what we are waiving is the fee of being taught,” he said.
What will a free plan cost taxpayers? In the current financial year that ends in June 2017, authorities have budgeted Sh33.7 billion for free secondary education.
This is set to rise to Sh39.4 billion in the next financial year.
To get the cost to government, the total fee payable for a student is multiplied with the number of students, Indimuli said.
He added that additional costs such as utilities, administration and classrooms should also be considered.
Done that way, 2.72 million students multiplied by Sh22,244 maximum fee proposed by the government, with no lunch or uniform, works out to Sh60.5 billion.
That is more than twice current budget. If you add an average worked out by Africa Check from the official guidelines of Sh9,143 per student per year for lunch and uniform at an average of Sh5,400 per student, the total per head comes to Sh36,787.
So the vision of a free secondary education, where a student walks into high school complete with uniform and is assured of lunch, would cost Sh100 billion, or more than twice the current budget.
For context, the total education budget is Sh67.1 billion for basic education and related expenditure.
These figures exclude the cost of constructing at least 4,000 classrooms and more than 700 science laboratories, and also paying teachers, of who there is an estimated shortfall of 47,576.
Donors might step in, but it would not be enough. For example, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, a key donor, gave US$20 million (Sh2 billion) in 2013 and US$13 million (Sh1.3 billion) in 2014.
The writer is the Africa Check Kenya Editor