Shock for learners as Treasury cuts school feeding programme funds

Pupils queueing for porridge at Kashani Primary School. [Gideon Maundu, Standard]

The fate of millions of children who rely on school feeding programme now hangs in the balance.

This is after the National Treasury withdrew Sh4.9 billion allocated towards the programme.

This is indicated in the proposed budget estimates for the 2024/2025 financial year.

The school feeding programme, which plays a crucial role in addressing food insecurity among school children, received an allocation of Sh4.9 billion in the current financial year.

The Ministry of Education sought an additional Sh1 billion in the supplementary budget to boost the initiative.

The details emerged Tuesday when Basic Education Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang appeared before the National Assembly Education Committee.

The decision to scrap the programme, has sent shockwaves with lawmakers fearing its adverse effects on millions of learners across the country.

National Assembly Education Committee Chairman Julius Melly, said the Education Ministry is shocked by the government's decision to eliminate the project, especially considering the earlier pledge by the Kenya Kwanza administration to expand the programme to boost school attendance.

“Kenya Kwanza government went ahead and told Kenyans that it would not just benefit Asal counties but rather everywhere. So we need to know the reasons why and what led to termination. What I would want to understand is the rationale used to propose the scrapping of this programme,” Melly said.

The programme was initiated in 1980 in response to a severe drought that affected 80 per cent of Kenya's population.

Initially serving 240,000 learners through a collaboration between the Government of Kenya and the World Food Programme (WFP), today it reaches at least 2.6 million learners in 8,185 schools nationwide.

The programme was targeting to reach at least four million learners.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) Census 2019, there are an estimated 2.5 million children out of school in Kenya.

About 60 per cent of these children are located in eight Asal counties: Mandera, Garissa, Turkana, Marsabit, Narok, West Pokot, Samburu, and Baringo.

These areas are characterized by high poverty levels, low literacy levels, low net enrollment rates, high teacher-student ratios, weak school infrastructure, high dropout rates, chronic absenteeism and high number of over-aged learners and out-of-school children.

Dr Kipsang expressed shock over the decision, highlighting the disconnect between policymakers and the realities faced by disadvantaged communities.

“The biggest challenge we are facing is that the whole budget has been removed. Those of us who take three meals a day might not know the feeling of what happens when a child does not have a meal in certain parts of this country. That is why I wanted my colleagues from the Treasury who think this programme is not important to be here,” the PS said.

He expressed concern over significant reductions amounting to Sh7 billion in the upcoming year's recurrent budget.

Kipsang emphasized the vital role of the school feeding program in ensuring students' success and urged the National Assembly to reinstate it.

“It is so important that single meal the students get at lunch time is retained. It’s so important that that cup of porridge that is given is retained because most students come without having any meal at home. There are more than 2 million students out of school and food is part of the reason why they are not in school,” he said.

The ministry said that the most affected by budget cuts is the Junior Secondary School, which has experienced a surge in enrolment to 3,289 students, necessitating Sh46.1 billion for full sponsorship.

Currently, the PS said there is a shortfall of Sh15.4 billion.

Kipsang warned of dire consequences in primary school, junior school and even secondary schools if more money is not released to the ministry.

“We appeal to this committee, the Constitution gives you the powers to appropriate, please try to find favour with our request and allocate enough money to fund education sector,” he said.

According to the State Department for Basic Education Supplementary Budget Estimates FY 2023/24, a comparison reveals reductions in the Recurrent Budget by Sh1.8 billion and the Development Budget by Sh2.4 billion.

Significant changes include cuts to Free Primary Education and the Secondary Education Quality Improvement Programme.

Requests for additional expenditure and reallocation focus on procurement of motor vehicles and addressing funding gaps in critical areas such as fuel, rent, and key programmmes like school feeding and infrastructure projects.

These reductions, Kipsang said, impact the delivery of quality assurance services, scholarships, and capacity-building programs.

He said urgent intervention is required, particularly in secondary school infrastructure improvement and a bailout for the Jomo Kenyatta Foundation.