'Karnataka's school fee cap not low enough': Parents demand regulatory body

Several parents' associations expressed dissatisfaction with the Karnataka HC's decision to revise the fee cut for private schools to 15% from the earlier 30%.
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Amid an ongoing tussle between parents and private schools over the issue of fees, several parents’ associations in Karnataka, including Voice of Parents and Poshakara Samanvaya Vedike, along with the Aam Aadmi Party have demanded that the Karnataka government appoint a fee regulatory body for private schools in the state. This was suggested as many parents were dissatisfied with the recent decision of the Karnataka High Court on September 16, where it mandated private schools to reduce only 15% of the fees. Earlier, in January 2021, the Karnataka government had released an order to reduce tuition fees for the academic year by 30% due to COVID-19.

When the Karnataka government had capped school fees at 70% of the tuition fee earlier in 2021, parents welcomed the government’s decision. However, the Associated Management of Schools in the state were unhappy. They approached the court challenging the order, and the court had asked the government to not take any coercive action against the schools.

Ahmer*, a parent from Bengaluru felt that the 15% reduction of fees was not sufficient as he felt that many parents have faced severe financial crisis amid the pandemic and would still not be able to cover school fees with this cut. “I run my own business and I have faced a 50% drop in revenue compared to previous years. The initial 30% (fee) cut was in itself not entirely sufficient but it was manageable, now a revision in reduction to 15% is not enough in any way,” Ahmer said.

Chaitra, the treasurer of the parents’ association Poshakara Samanvaya Vedike, echoed this. She said many parents had faced severe financial distress amid the pandemic and several others despite retaining jobs were looking at an uncertain future.

“A 15% reduction (of fees) is in no way enough. Many parents are in a confused mode and many don't know when they will be given a pink slip from their job. We are very unsafe at this point of time. The pandemic has not subsided, we are just relaxing and nobody knows when the next cloudburst will be. At this point I don't understand why just 15% reduction is being given,” Chaitra said.

She further said, “We are appealing to the government to go for a plea to a double bench where we would be asking for at least a 20% to 25% reduction.”

Not only parents’ associations, but political parties weighed in as well. Vijay Shastrimath, the media coordinator of the Aam Aadmi Party in Karnataka told TNM that they had been conducting a series of events with the tagline ‘Fees Ilisi, Makkala Bhavishya Ulisi’ (Reduce fees, save children’s future). He said that he has seen parents who have two children send just one to school as they can’t afford two sets of school fees.

Vijay lashed out at the government for not intervening when the private schools had approached the court. “When the schools approached the court, the fight was between the schools and the parents. The government did nothing,” Vijay said, accusing former Education Minister Suresh Kumar of inaction over the issue

Meanwhile, while announcing their decision to revise fees cut, the High Court had cited the Supreme Court’s decision in the ‘Indian School, Jodhpur and Another versus the State of Rajasthan and others’ case, where the Supreme Court had allowed a discount of 15% of the fees.

According to Chaitra, just because the Supreme Court gave a ruling of 15% in Rajasthan, it didn’t mean that this would be sufficient for people in Karnataka. “There they already have a fee regulating committee and here we don't. On what basis they want to follow the same verdict, I don't know,” Chaitra said.

Vijay too pointed out that a 15% reduction of fees in Rajasthan would not have the same effect in Karnataka. “In Karnataka, the fees are exorbitant. In many cases, the fee is over Rs 2 lakh. In Rajasthan, a 15% reduction would be fine as there is a body that regulates fees and the fees are already capped.” The Rajasthan Regulation of Fees Act, 2016, provides for the regulation of collection of fees by schools in the state and has a committee that looks into matters connected with it.

Another issue that Chaitra pointed out was that the 15% reduction was just for the academic year of 2020-21 and in the future, the issue of exorbitant fees would be back. She expressed a need for a committee that regulates fees in the state and school-level committees consisting of management and parents’ representatives to decide on the fees.

*Name changed

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