Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Saturday, December 21, 2002
Who Should Pay China's Rural Primary Education?
China must figure out a sustainable resource to support its rural primary education. Not only is this a crux to greatly reduce farmers' financial burden, but it will also lay a solid basis for realizing by 2020 the ambitious all-around "Xiaokang" society, literally a moderate well-off life promised by the Chinese Communist Party's 16th National Congress held early last month.
China must figure out a sustainable resource to support its rural primary education.
Not only is this a crux to greatly reduce farmers' financial burden, but it will also lay a solid basis for realizing by 2020 the ambitious all-around "Xiaokang" society, literally a moderate well-off life promised by the Chinese Communist Party's 16th National Congress held early last month.
For the time being, the rural primary schools run mainly on farmers' submission of various educational taxes and fees, although China's existing Education Law designates it a part of the fiscal budget of the county government.
The current fiscal arrangements between the central and local governments have greatly increased the former's fiscal power, but the latter's has been waning since 1994.
As a result, expenditures of the rural primary education, a compulsory task in light of the education law, eventually shift onto farmers' back.
The expenditures include not merely a considerable share of the teachers' salary, but also the spending on building new and renovating old teaching buildings and other facilities, and some other miscellaneous educational fees.
"This is more like Chinese traditional family-based education instead of the so-called 'public or compulsory education'," a research report by the Development Research Center (DRC) under the State Council quoted local cadres as saying.
The most serious problem of the rural primary education system is that the teachers cannot get paid on time - usually half or even one year later than the due date - and in full amount.
Farmers just cannot turn out enough taxes to support both the local government and the teachers' payment.
So far, for the fiscal-supported administrative staff in the town government which is the base of China's bureaucratic pyramid, 80 percent of their salaries come from the assorted taxes and fees handed over by farmers, which has been an almost bend-back burden for most farmers, according to the DRC report published in the Beijing-based China Economic Times.
As a solution, the central government required last year that the county government, the direct upper tier above the town administration, should pay all rural primary school teachers.
Given the limited finances of the county governments, however, such a change has not made a big difference in most cases.
The current administrative and financial mechanism for the rural primary education must be reformed to deal with the tattering finances of the current rural primary education, said the DRC report.
First, the payment to the rural primary school teachers should be shared by the central and local governments, but managed uniformly by the county government.
It is a worldwide practice for the central/federal or provincial/state governments rather than the grass-roots administration to take the compulsory education expenditures.
The central finances has ladled too much out of farmers during China's industrialization drive over the past years and has therefore owed a big debt to the rural primary education.
It's a high time now for the central government to pay back, said the report.
Second, the central government should re-assess the minimum expenditure of rural primary schools' everyday operation and establish a special foundation to ensure these schools' building and maintenance of their teaching facilities.
Such a practice will help all rural primary schools deliver roughly the same quality - at least as far as the teaching condition is concerned - of education, despite the different economic development in each area.
On the other hand, farmer families' contribution to the expenditure of rural primary schools should be brought down and taken over by the county or/and town fiscal budget.
As for the primary schools in the impoverished rural areas, the textbook fee should be exempted and paid by the central and/or central government.
Last but not least, the central government must leave a certain sum of revenues to local governments specifically for the rural primary education.
The on-going reform to reduce farmers' financial burden launched in May of this year has made illegal the education surtax and other types of fees levied on farmers in name of the rural education.
This means that the town and village administrations will be unable to wantonly ask farmers for the so-called education taxes any longer. But the problem is where to get the money for the necessary spending in the rural primary schools.
One solution is to cut a share out of the newly-fixed agricultural taxes and earmark it specially for the rural primary education, according to the report.