DepEd Secretary Briones: I am committed to improving state of public school teachers
I fully agree with the statement in the Inquirer editorial, “‘Strong’ teachers make a ‘strong’ country” (6/16/19), that like soldiers and the police (and may I add health workers, social workers and government workers in general), teachers are essential for a strong country. I also agree that teachers are vital for the development of a people that is not only well-versed in that ABCs and 123s, but also possesses critical thinking and values for good citizenship.
No less than the Constitution recognizes the important role of teachers’ pay in teacher quality. It provides that the state shall “ensure that teaching will attract and retain its rightful share of the best available talents through adequate remuneration and other means of job satisfaction and fulfillment.”
However, I differ from the Inquirer when it comes to the details. In the interest of informed public discussion on a major government decision, I offer the following comments.
I reiterate my position (originally issued on June 6) on the proposed salary increase for teachers:
1. As Education Secretary and advocate, I constantly seek ways to uplift the social and economic status of public school teachers, and improve their living and working conditions and terms of employment. I fully support the President’s pronouncement to raise the salaries of teachers.
2. In 2018, the Cabinet decided to complete the fourth and last tranche of the salary standardization law (which includes increases in teacher’s pay) this year, and directed the Department of Budget and Management to study how to effect the next salary increase. Together with the Cabinet economic team, we have been working to find ways and means to realize a salary increase for the Department of Education’s (DepEd) 830,000 teachers.
I have discussed in public the different considerations that need to be taken into account, something which, unfortunately, were misunderstood, if not misrepresented, by certain quarters to be a position against a salary increase.
First, a P5,000 monthly across-the-board increase will mean an additional annual budget requirement of P75 billion; P10,000 will require P150 billion. Such huge fiscal impact will have to consider the appropriate policy mix for taxes, borrowing and budget reallocation. Furthermore, we cannot think of the teachers alone. A salary increase for teachers will raise equity issues with respect to other government personnel, which also need to be addressed.
The Inquirer finds that teachers are inadequately compensated for their labors, and cites high indebtedness and low take-home pay as proof. I have a different appreciation of this matter.
Teachers’ salaries have improved over time. In addition to the basic salary, all government employees receive benefits, allowances and bonuses. There are also certain benefits that are given exclusively to teachers. The salaries of public school teachers have outpaced the salaries of those in private schools, resulting in a trend of teachers from private schools moving to public schools. I mention these not to argue against a salary increase, but to emphasize the serious efforts to uplift teachers’ conditions that the public should be aware of, even as we strive for further improvements.
I caution against making knee-jerk and unstudied correlation between teachers’ salary levels and their indebtedness. I hope that the Inquirer will expand the bases of its analysis beyond the assertions made by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers and the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition that represent a segment, but not most of the teachers. More importantly, it is imperative to have a more careful look at the issue so that meaningful interventions can be made.
Dr. Rosario Manasan analyzed the 2015 Family Income and Expenditure Survey and found that public school teachers have a higher propensity to borrow than other similarly situated individuals. She found that 57.9 percent of households with a DepEd teacher had outstanding loans, compared to only 26.8 percent of households with a private school teacher. Thirty-three percent of households with at least one government worker other than a public school teacher, and 22.2 percent of households with at least one private sector worker, had outstanding loans.
The tendency to “max out” the borrowing space also cuts across salary grades (SG). There are Teachers I (SG 11, with monthly basic pay of P20,754) and Master Teachers I (SG 18 with monthly basic pay of P40,637) who receive only the minimum monthly net take-home pay of P5,000 because of deductions for loan repayments. But there are also teachers across various SGs who get higher take-home pay because they borrow less. Predictably, those with low net take-home pay will feel they are underpaid, even if their situation is a result of their personal financial decisions.
We are deepening our study on public school teachers’ debts, to understand the issue better, to introduce reforms to address the situation, and to help ensure that teachers will benefit more from any salary increase.
Finally, may I correct the Inquirer’s statement that the present estimated debt of P319 billion jumped “from just P18 billion two years ago.” It increased by (not from) P18 billion from the reported P301 billion two years ago. The editorial team might have been misled by the way their source story was written.
LEONOR MAGTOLIS BRIONES
Secretary, Department of Education
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