Although slowing growth in fiscal revenues as a result of the country’s economic slowdown has made it difficult to significantly increase public expenditure on education, the importance of equal opportunities in basic education justifies such a move.
Therefore, the State Council’s announcement last week that China will set a unified benchmark for public funds per student in rural and urban areas, starting next year, is to be welcomed.
With all students also having their compulsory education tuition and textbook fees exempted from 2017, it is estimated that the move will cost central and local governments more than 15 billion yuan ($2.35 billion) over the next two years.
This increase does not amount to a big share of the country’s fiscal expenditure which jumped 18.1 percent year-on-year to exceed 13.4 trillion yuan in the first 10 months this year. But it will add to the increasing pressures on government revenue, which climbed by only 7.7 percent to 12.9 trillion yuan over that period.
However, it is necessary that Chinese policymakers put the long-term benefits of equal education before short-term fiscal stress.
Currently, rural schools in general receive lower levels of public funds for basic education than urban ones, while children who have migrated with their parents to cities from rural areas are mostly excluded from public schools and can only go to private schools with little or no public funding.
The new policy will ensure that these schools will receive the same level of per-student government funding.
Equal opportunities for basic education will not only considerably ease the cost for many new families living and working in cities in coming years but, more importantly, help prepare a better-educated labor force to fulfill the country’s pursuit of inclusive and innovative growth in the long run.
The article is an editorial from China Daily on Nov 23, 2015.