GOVTS WAKE UP TO PARENTS & STUDENTS’ EDU WOES
Parents of private school students in the state can now pay fees on a monthly, bimonthly, quarterly, half-yearly or yearly basis and even earn a rebate for early payment at the management’s discretion. Schools can propose only up to 15% hike in fees once every two years. In unforeseen circumstances, a school can hike fees above 15% or before two years by furnishing valid reasons—if it is approved by 76% of parents or the parent-teacher association executive committee. Alternatively, schools can declare class-wise fees for five or even 10 years at the time of admission to Class I. For late payment of fees, schools can charge a penal interest to be decided by the government.
These are some of the key amendments to the Maharashtra Educational Institutions (Regulation of Fee) Act, 2011, which were approved by the assembly on Monday without discussion. The legislation, which was in the works for a few years, has finally become law despite opposition to some proposals, including the requirement for at least 25% parents to come together to oppose a fee hike.
At least 25% parents needed to oppose school fee hike, says amended Act
The amendment has defined an “aggrieved group of parents” as one which comprises at least 25% of the total parents of an affected standard or school. This group can approach the divisional fee regulatory committee in case it opposes the fee hike approved by the PTA’s executive committee. The group must file an appeal along with signed forms from each parent.
Until now, the right to approach the fee regulatory authority lay solely with the school management.
Earlier provisions of the Act specified that if the difference between the proposed fee and that approved by the PTA executive committee is less than 15%, it would be binding on the school management to accept the panel’s decision.
The amendment, though, has done away with this clause and states that if the management is aggrieved by the PTA executive committee’s decision, it would have 30 days to appeal to the fee regulatory committee.
The amendment has also lowered the penalty imposed on schools. While the earlier penalty for a first-time offence was between Rs 1 lakh and 5 lakh or twice the amount taken in excess, the amendment now has deleted the word twice from the clause.
TIMES VIEW: The amendments in the fee regulation Act come after several promises made by the state government over the past few years. There have been frequent protests by parent groups demanding a regulatory framework to give them protection from arbitrary and regular fee hikes. The latest amendments are unlikely to satisfy them—parents claim they are mostly pro-management. For instance, any opposition to a fee hike will need the support of at least 25% of the school strength to pass muster with the authorities. That may be raising the bar a little high.
Parents slam interest on late fee
Parent groups have called amendments to the fee regulation Act “pro-school managements” and demanded a review.
One of the most contentious clauses, say parents, is introduction of penal interest on late fee. “It is beyond our understanding why the government wants to create a component of interest. Late fee is unacceptable and must not exceed 50 paise per day of delay in payment,” said Anubha Sahai of India Wide Parents Association. The association has drafted a list of demands to be handed over to the government.
Parents have also raised concerns over the requirement of at least 25% members to come together to oppose a fee hike. “Parents hesitate to stand up against the management due to the fear of students being targeted. It is difficult to gather even three or four parents for a cause; 25% is too big a number,” said Sunil Choudhari of New Bombay Parents Association.
On the exclusion of pre-primary students from the Act, Jayant Jain, president, Forum for Fairness in Education, said, “There is maximum corruption in that section but there is no mention of its fee structure or the admission process.”
Defending the changes, school education minister Vinod Tawde said, “The changes are in the interest of parents. When schools declare fees for all classes in advance, parents will know what to expect and take a call accordingly. The earlier Act did not allow parents to approach the regulatory body but the amendment gives them a chance to do so.”
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