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Fee has been a long-disputed issue

Bageshree S.

What does the High Court ruling on bringing Central schools under the KEA mean?

Bangalore: The Karnataka High Court's ruling on Monday that schools affiliated to Central Boards like CBSE and ICSE should be brought under the purview of the Karnataka Education Act (KEA) comes at a crucial time, when the issue of the State Government's control over privately owned, unaided schools is already an area of bitter dispute in the light of the Right to Education (RTE) Act.

One of the principal arguments of private schools on the draft rules framed by the Karnataka Government on the RTE Act has been that it gives the State Education Department officials a strong hold over fees, admission norms and other issues. The court ruling comes when the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is on the verge of finalising the rules.

Education Department officials had hinted that they might arrive at a compromise formula by setting up a separate authority to monitor fee structure and other issues rather than give powers to block education officers (BEOs). How the judgment impacts the final rules remains to be seen.

Complaints galore

There have been complaints galore to the Education Department from parents of children going to Central Board schools on fees being hiked indiscriminately and unilaterally.

No guidelines

What makes school fees collected across institutions affiliated to Central Boards varied and arbitrary is the absence of specific guidelines in the CBSE and ICSE affiliation byelaws. Apart from stating that fees charged should be “commensurate with the facilities provided by the institution” and banning capitation fee, the byelaws don't provide any specific framework for fixing fee. (See box)

As the judgment observes, the schools are not exempt from government sops such as concessions in power tariff, property tax, land allocation and so on. But they remain outside the purview of the KEA or any Central rules on matters related to fees.

While the State Government has often pleaded helplessness saying that it has no control over Central Board schools, the fact remains that it forfeited it by amending the KEA in 1998. Its function thus became limited to issuing no-objection certificates (NOCs) to start schools. The schools have on their part argued that they cannot have two authorities to answer to — the State Education Department and the Board.

The Karnataka State Education Perspective Plan, submitted to the Government on educational reforms in 2007, had censured the Government for the absence of a proper procedure in granting NOCs, resulting in “a large number of schools going out of the supervision of the Education Department”. The committee headed by D. Jagannatha Rao, former Director of the Department of State Education Research and Training (DSERT), had made a particular mention of the schools “fleecing parents with exorbitant fees”.

Fee and ‘prestige'

In the larger picture, privately owned schools constitute only seven per cent of schools in the country. Their importance in cities like Bangalore is directly linked to parents' penchant to send their children to “prestigious” schools. Way back in the mid-'60s, the Kothari Commission had recommended a common school system that abolishes segregation and provides access to schooling of comparable standards in the neighbourhood. Had this been taken seriously, the school fees issue may not have assumed such monstrous proportions.

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