DepEd urged to explain ‘missing’ line item for learners with disabilities
September 27, 2023 | 5:36pm
MANILA, Philippines — A lawmaker has questioned the Department of Education over the absence of a dedicated item for programs for learners with disabilities in its proposed 2024 budget — a critical requirement of a law that continues to be unevenly implemented more than a year since its passage.
Citing Republic Act 11650 or the Inclusive Education Act, Rep. Arlene Brosas (Gabriela Women’s Party) asked DepEd why it did not allocate a separate line item for the “Program Support Budget” (PSB) institutionalizing services for learners with disabilities.
The “missing” line item would guarantee that DepEd would implement a child-finding system to locate children with disabilities not enrolled in school and hire more specialists for learners with disabilities, Brosas said in citing RA 11650.
The PSB would also ensure that it has a specific allocation that would defray expenses in support services and purchase more materials and learning equipment for children with disabilities, Brosas added.
Separate line items in the annual General Appropriations Act effectively safeguard the budget allocated by making the fund distinct from other budgetary allocations. This makes it clear that they are earmarked specifically for learners with disabilities.
DepEd and other government agencies responsible for implementing RA 11650 have yet to release the Implementing Rules and Regulations for the landmark law more than a year since it was passed.
The absence of an IRR, which House education panel chairperson Rep. Roman Romulo scolded the agency for months ago, has led the department to go ahead and convert Special Education (SPED) Centers into more complete Inclusive Learning Resource Centers.
Lumped together under ‘special needs education program’
Rep. Maria Carmen Zamora, who spoke on behalf of DepEd during plenary deliberations of the agency’s budget, said that the programs mentioned by Brosas are already accounted for in the agency’s Special Needs Education Program, which has a line item of its own and an allocation of P999 million.
Based on DepEd’s proposed 2024 budget, the Special Needs Education Program is a budget line falling under the more general “PSB” for Inclusive Education, which is set to get a total of P6.4 billion. Broken down, this includes not just the Special Needs Education Program, but also Multigrade Education (P161 million), IP education (P154 million); Flexible learning options (P3.6 billion); and Madrasah education (P431 million).
“So there is no line item? Nothing specific for learners with disabilities?” Brosas said in a mix of English and Filipino.
“Special needs education program includes (the learners with disabilities),” Zamora said.
Brosas also said that this does not explain how the department can hire more specialists trained to provide interventions for learners with disabilities as the Special Needs Education Program is under the Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses.
The budget for hiring more personnel for learners with disabilities is lumped in the Personnel Services portion of the agency’s budget, Zamora said.
Based on the 2019 data from the Department of Social Welfare and Development Listahanan, approximately 60% of children with disabilities were not registered in any educational institution or learning facility.
During the pandemic, enrollment rates for learners with disabilities saw a significant decline. In 2021, DepEd reported that there were only approximately 126,000 learners with disabilities enrolled in DepEd schools, marking a staggering 65% decrease compared to the 360,000 students enrolled in 2019.