Photo: retrieved

Many private schools stand between a rock and a hard place since August 17. Maduro’s economic measures further asphyxiated workers’ purchasing power, intensified the employers’ problems and slid a noose around the neck for parents and representatives. Maduro made unilateral decisions through economic measures that will worsen product shortages, swell prices even more and deepen the collapse of services, schools among them.

Fausto Romeo, head of the Association of Private Education Institutions (Andiep) says that education is plummeting: both teachers and students are leaving. The 2017-18 period was critical, but the 2018-19 period looks even worse. “This school year, 15% of schools may shut down. We’re talking about 400 to 500 kindergartens, elementary schools and high schools that won’t be able to open in September,” said Romeo.

This school year, 15% of schools may shut down.

Maduro said that he’s going to subsidize the new minimum wage of Bs.S. 1,800 for 90 days. “But how do we know that’s true? The fact is that we have to pay wages on September 15 and we can’t fix the payroll with the current amount. Are we going to pay our employees three million bolívares fuertes? Obviously not. We have to give them more so they can withstand the crisis. We have to wait for the wage hike to be published in the Official Gazette, along with the rules on how those adjustments will apply. We still don’t know if private schools can sign in for that registry and access the subsidy. For now, we can’t participate in something so vague. We won’t demand our employees to have the carnet de la patria either.”

Measures that cause uncertainty

The 2017-18 school year brought much toil to many parents. Some, like Moraima Torres, made the hard choice to stop sending their children to school because they can’t pay for transport. The price of the bus fare, which was also increased, seems irrelevant. However, for parents that are already struggling with food, public transport prices are another rock for their finances. “My girl approved the first two terms, so for the third I decided to send her to school only three days a week, although it looks irresponsible. It’s really hard for me to pay for transport and food every day. Actually, I didn’t enroll her in school in July because I didn’t have the money.”

For parents that are struggling with food, public transport prices are another rock for their finances.

On August 25, Moraima still didn’t have the money to enroll her child in second year of high school. The girl attends a private school, located in the Coche parish in Caracas. In July, the amount she had to pay was Bs.F. 13,600,000, which she couldn’t collect in full because she doesn’t make more than Bs.F. 9,000,000. She asked for an extension in the school’s administration for September and now she’s on edge with the economic announcements from August 17. “I don’t want to pull my girl out of school, but I don’t want her to go to a public school either. Many teachers have left and private schools at least offer a bit more guarantees regarding academic instruction. They’ve already told us that fees will increase again. That’ll be a hard blow for me, and it’s going to be the same for many parents. I can’t even buy a new physical education shirt for her.”

And to make matters worse, it’s worth noting that the school where Moraima’s child studies might be in the list of institutions that will shut down this school year. “I’m afraid because it’s uncertain what might happen in the next few months. I don’t know how much I’ll have to pay, and we don’t even know if this high school will keep working.”

No more money

The last school period was marked by high levels of hyperinflation, while a large part of the monthly income in education institutions vanished in payroll and public services payments. “In my girl’s high school, we had to pay for tests. Now they not only ask for the reams of paper, but also markers for acrylic whiteboards, and we’re talking about a private institution. Those that depend on the State are worse. They ask for chlorum to clean bathrooms and drinking water for the kids, because the service is rationed,” said Moraima Torres, who has forgotten what it means to go on a holiday.

50% of the income goes to operational tasks and the rest is to pay teachers.

Fausto Romeo confirmed Torres’s words: 50% of the income goes to operational tasks and the rest is to pay teachers. There’s no money for more, and on top of that we have to deal with Maduro’s package, which endangers the education of over two million students, according to the Andiep representative who, just like Moraima, couldn’t rest in August, but rather had to tour schools along with associations such as the Network of Parents and Representatives, studying ways to overcome the crisis.

Unlike August last year, when some schools remained open to guarantee food for kids, this time the classrooms are used for forums attended by principals, teachers, workers and the school’s community. “We call for schools to open in September and receive all their students, so nobody’s left out. Education is paramount here,” said Romeo.

Lila Vega, member of this network, is also convinced that the priority is to guarantee that teachers and students remain in the classrooms. “The rest (painting the school, repairing the equipment, buying new materials, uniforms) must be secondary. Students have already been blasted by the crisis, we can’t allow them to be left out of the education system.”

The priority is to guarantee that teachers and students remain in the classrooms.

It sounds tough, considering that many parents are like Moraima Torres: hardpressed to choose between food or school. “Of course it’s tough, but it’s time to appeal to solidarity, to the consensus between schools and parents, so that nobody has to leave the classrooms,” said Vega.

She adds that the new fees must be set with the approval of the school community. “If someone can’t pay, they must say so in the assembly, so the rest can decide how to help. But we must keep institutions working. We must seek out external help, and if the use of foreign currency is decided, everyone involved must agree. Hard days are coming and people must know that the school isn’t the threat. The threat comes from the outside and we must face it.”

The Education Ministry has said nothing about the start of the new school year. They haven’t even said whether infrastructural repairs are being made in the case of public schools. Their web page and Twitter account @mppeducacion are filled with proselytism and propaganda. Apparently, this institution did go on vacation, while Moraima spends her anguished days, unable to pay for shirts or shoes that already go for Bs.S. 1,700, almost the entirety of the new minimum wage.

The Education Ministry has said nothing about the start of the new school year.

For now, only Chacao Municipality has implemented measures to relieve the load: the uniform isn’t obligatory in municipal schools. Students may attend classes in trousers and shirts as long as they’re well kept. The measure was established due to the hard economic situation hitting Venezuelan families.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.