Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go urges local government units to carefully and wisely utilize their respective Special Education Fund as the Department of the Interior and Local Government recently called on them to assist the Department of Education in preparing for the coming school year.

“Ni piso ay hindi dapat masayang. Gamitin po natin ng tama ang pondo ng bayan upang matulungan ang ating mga kababayan, lalo na ngayon na may krisis. Gamit ang SEF, let’s make sure that students are able to continue their education in a manner that will not put them at harm because of the risks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

DILG also encouraged LGUs to convene their Local School Boards to discuss the use of SEF and to support the localization of the Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan crafted by the education department amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Kailangang masigurong maayos na nagagamit ng LGUs ang kanilang Special Education Fund para suportahan ang mga hakbang bilang paghahanda sa pagbubukas ng school year. Kinokomendahan din po natin ang panawagan ng DILG sa mga LGUs na tulungan ang DepEd upang maayos mailatag at maipatupad ang patuloy na pag-aaral sa ilalim ng ‘New Normal’,” Go said.

“Sa tulong po ng pondong ito, mapupunan nila ang mga pangangailangan ng kanilang public school system lalo na’t may mga challenges silang hinaharap dala ng pandemyang COVID-19,” he added.

In a press release issued by DILG, the agency asked LGUs to “assist the DepED in the adjustment of public schools to the new normal” as well as to “utilize the Special Education Fund” which would enable them to fund their education needs in the face of COVID-19.

DILG Spokesperson and Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said that “Local Chief Executives must immediately convene their respective Local School Boards to discuss which of the new learning modalities identified by the DepEd can be utilized in their respective areas and provide the necessary support to their teachers and learners.”

Earlier, DILG chief Eduardo M. Año has also expressed support to the implementation of Oplan Balik Eskwela and DepEd’s BE-LCP, saying, “In aid of the 2020 Brigada Eskwela and OBE programs, I enjoin all LGUs and all barangays to assist the schools within your jurisdictions to adjust to the new learning modalities.”

Meanwhile, Go has been pushing for the expanded use of the SEF through his proposed Senate Bill 396. The bill will allow for the expanded application of the SEF, giving LGUs the flexibility to boost their support to local public schools and facilitate the transition to “blended learning” amid the pandemic.

“In my capacity as a legislator naman, patuloy ko pong ipaglalaban na maipasa ang panukalang batas na naglalayong ma-expand ang application ng SEF upang magamit ito ng mga mahihirap na LGUs sa kanilang mga pangangailangang pang-edukasyon,” he said.

Go noted that under the Local Government Code (Republic Act 7160), the SEF was created to provide local school boards with enough guaranteed funding for education-related expenses. However, because of restrictions imposed on the use of the SEF, he said LGUs, especially the poorer ones, are unduly hampered in providing for the other needs of their local public education system, such as the provision of school supplies and benefits and training for teachers.

Under Section 272 of RA 7160, local school boards may only use the SEF for “operation and maintenance of public schools, construction and repair of school buildings, facilities and equipment, educational research, purchase of books and periodicals, and sports development.”

“My proposed bill aims to solve this problem by expanding the scope of the SEF. Under this bill, it may now be used for, among others, payment of salaries and benefits of teaching and non-teaching personnel, competency training, and operation of alternative learning systems,” Go said in a public hearing conducted by the Senate Committee on Local Government.

“Apart from this, the flexibility afforded by this measure to LGUs will facilitate our ongoing transition to the digital age, where there is a growing need to provide our students with modern tools to remain globally competitive. It will also render the public education system more flexible to implement alternative modes of learning or blended learning,” he added.

Once enacted into law, SB 396 will amend Section 272 of RA 7160 to include the construction and repair of libraries; payment of salaries, allowances and other benefits of teaching and non-teaching personnel; competency training for teaching personnel; operation of the Alternative Learning System, including payment of salaries, allowances and other benefits of ALS facilitator; and the purchase of teaching aids and other instructional materials within the scope of ESF allocation.

“Sa tulong ng panukalang ito, mabibigyan po natin ng sapat na kakayahan ang mga LGUs na mapunan ang pangangailangang pang-edukasyon ng kanilang mga nasasakupan, para di na nila kailangang umalis pa sa kanilang mga probinsya para lang makapag-aral sa mga metro cities,” Go said.

“And to emphasize: we are not giving LGUs more money. What we are giving them -– through this measure -– is more flexibility on how they can use the SEF. In return, what we ask from our LGUs is to ensure that every peso from the SEF counts and to make sure that the funds from the SEF are spent wisely for our children and the public,” he added.

Recognizing that COVID-19 continues to pose health threats, Go, who also sits as the chair of the Senate Committee on Health, again reiterated his position against the conduct of physical or face to face classroom sessions until a vaccine is available or when health experts have determined it is safe. He also echoed President Rodrigo Duterte’s stand not to allow physical classes to resume.

“We will take this one step at a time so that we can slowly, but surely, protect the safety of our students. Kahit ayaw nating maantala ang klase nila, importanteng safe sila. ‘Yan ang unang consideration natin, ang kalusugan ng ating mga anak. For me, no vaccine, no physical classes or face-to-face learning,” Go said.

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