MANILA — Congress is looking for ways to fund the Department of Education's (DepEd) program that caters to learners with special needs after it got a zero allocation under the proposed 2023 budget, the chairman of the House basic education committee said Thursday.
Pasig Rep. Roman Romulo said Congress is planning to source the funds from other government agencies that have failed to fully utilize their budget in the previous years.
"Taon-taon naman, 'yong ibang mga ahensiya, hindi rin nila nagagamit nang husto 'yong budget nila kasi nga 'yong absorptive capacity nila ay hindi nakakayanan," Romulo said in a televised public briefing.
(Every year, there are government agencies that do not fully use up their budget allocation because of their absorptive capacity.)
"'Yon po 'yong tinitingnan natin ngayon na mailipat natin para 'yong ating learners with disabilities ay siguradong may budget na makukuha," he added.
(That's what we are looking at, so we can transfer some of those funds to ensure that our learners with disabilities will get a budget.)
Romulo's statement comes after netizens cried foul over the zero allocation for the DepEd's Special Education (SPED) program under the 2023 National Expenditure Program.
The DepEd earlier explained it originally proposed a P532-million SPED budget but this was later scrapped in the NEP prepared by the Department of Budget and Management.
According to the DBM, the DepEd did not provide sufficient documentation to support its proposal, such as "details of the proposed amount with specific purposes, basis of computations/parameters, status of the ongoing conversion and establishment of Inclusive Learning Resource Centers (ILRCs) funded under FY 2021 and FY 2022 GAA."
It also noted that as of June 30 this year, the SPED program under the FY 2022 GAA has an obligation rate of 1.13 percent, or only P6.35 million out of P560.202 million allocation. The funding provision is valid until December 31, 2023, it added.
"Allow us to emphasize that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) puts primacy on the value of Special Education (SPED) of Filipino children with special needs. We give utmost importance in giving them access to quality education, so that their unique needs are adequately addressed," the agency said earlier this week.
"Considering that there is around P1.216 billion surplus noted for the PAP - Operations of Schools - Elementary and Junior Highschools (JHS) under DepEd MOOE, we deemed that the program support or additional allocation for the smooth implementation of the SPED may already be accommodated within the same program, and that a separate budget for the purpose may no longer be necessary," it added.
Romulo said it is the role of Congress to scrutinize the budget to ensure that it met the needs of various sectors.
He added that it is important for SPED to have its own budget, citing Republic Act No. 11650 or the "Inclusive Education Act" that was signed earlier this year.
"Noong huling Kongreso, nagpasa tayo ng inclusive education kung saan pinapagtibay natin, pinapalakas natin 'yong pagbibigay natin ng tulong at edukasyon sa ating learners with disabilities. Kaya napakahalaga talagang may separate budget siya para maliwanag na ito'y talagang naka-earmark para sa kanila," he said.
(In the previous Congress, we passed a law on inclusive education which aimed to strengthen the help given to our learners with disabilities. That's why it's important that there's a separate budget so it's clear that there's funding earmarked especially for them.)
The DepEd earlier said the lack of budget allocation for SPED was a "recurring circumstance" but assured that it would work with Congress to find funding for the program.
In 2021, no amount was allotted for the SPED program under the NEP but it was eventually given a budget of P329 million.
This year, the program had a P297-million allocation in the NEP, which eventually rose to P560 million in the General Appropriations Act.