Funding crisis: Schools in Sh29 billion debt

Education CS Ezekiel Machogu. [File, Standard]

The administration of this year’s national examinations now hangs in the balance as public schools sag under the weighty of a Sh29 billion debt.

It is emerging that the government owes secondary schools Sh14 billion, being balance that should have been released by last term.

And this term, the government is yet to release Sh15 billion, weeks to the start of national examinations.

Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET) national chairman Omboko Milemba said that based on the figures, the government presently owes each student some Sh10,469.

He explained that of this amount, some Sh4,908 should have been paid by the end of second term. Another Sh5,561 should have been disbursed per student this term.

And primary and secondary teachers are now worried. “We will not buy examination material, especially for practical subjects because we owe suppliers money for two financial years,” said Kahi Indimuli, secondary school heads national chairman.

He said preparation for the tests is at risk as plans to buy necessary equipment and chemicals are in jeopardy.

With just six weeks to school closure on October 27, which will also pave the way for the start of the national examinations, school heads have sounded an alarm.

They are warning of a potential halt to operations in public institutions. And they are also considering early school closures, a move that could have far-reaching implications on the quality of education and students’ academic outcomes.

Data from the Kenya National Examination Council (Knec) shows some 3.5 million learners will sit national tests next month.

Some 1.4 million candidates will sit Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and another 903,260 registered for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE).

Knec data also shows some 1.2 million will sit the Kenya Primary School Education Assessment (KPSEA). Both KCPE and KPSEA are scheduled to start on October 30. KCSE will start on November 3.

“The crisis we are facing and which most headteachers are in agreement with, is that they want to have early closure of schools and furthermore affect the quality of education and the examination results,” said Milemba.

In some schools, he said “zero-fee balance policy” has been imposed on the candidates.

Mr Indimuli said debts owed to suppliers are growing as payments remain overdue. He said some schools have been forced to take loans or use their own resources to keep their doors open.

But that is not all. The teachers also struggle to cover essential expenses like electricity bills, staff salaries, and other operational costs.

“Principals are under dire pressure, which might adversely affect their health. We have not been remitting statutory deduction for the non-teaching staff and other staff employed directly by the schools,” Indimuli said.

He said even when the funds are provided it is often far short of their needs. He said the situation is worse in day schools, as they solely rely on capitation to run operations. 

Milemba said he has written to Education CS Ezekiel Machogu over the matter. “Two weeks since schools re-opened for third term, most of the institutions cannot meet pressing financial obligations including payment of contractors and suppliers,” Milemba said in a letter dated September 12 to Machogu.

And the matter has also gone to Parliament: “I have sent two questions to parliament through the clerks so that the Cabinet Secretary for Education may come and explain why we have this delay,” he said. But as teachers and parents wait for answers from Machogu and the Treasury, primary schools are also grappling with the funding gap.

Johnson Nzioka, chairman of the Kenya Primary School Heads Association (KPSHA), revealed that the government has only released 50 per cent of the funds owed to primary schools. 

He said this delayed and insufficient disbursement has left schools struggling to cover essential expenses like electricity bills, staff salaries and other operational costs.

“The complexity of the problem is that the disbursement of funds is tied to the National Education Management Information System (Nemis), which appears to be falling short in capturing all enrolled students accurately,” said Nzioka.