Policy Dialogue #12: Inequities in Funding Schools

Posted on February 8, 2021  /  1 Comments

A policy dialogue on “Inequities in funding schools” was held by the Education Forum Sri Lanka (EFSL) on February 13th, 2021, via Zoom.

Full Video: PD#12, 2 hours 30 minutes

Mini clips:


A major issue for parents in Sri Lanka today is access to a ‘popular’ school for their child. The competition for admission to Grade one in a few select popular schools, the recent uproar over the raising of the cut-off mark for admission at grade 6 to the same set of schools are cases in point.  What makes a school popular or attractive to parents? What does it take financially to maintain an attractive school? These are some of the basic questions that we wanted to address in our policy dialogue on inequities in school funding. The three panelists represented three different levels of education administration -i.e. School Level, Provincial Level and Line Ministry Level giving the participants a good overview of the situation.

School level

Mr. W.A. Janaka, the principal of Sri Rahula Vidyalaya in Bellummahara gave a detailed description of what it takes to maintain an attractive school. His school is a Type 2 school or a school with Grades 1-11 only. There are 350 children in the school. He has a staff of 20 teachers, three development officers and two non-academic staff members.

Apart from academic cadre of 20 and a non-academic cadre of 5, he receives about Rs: 20,000 from the provincial fund to cover essential payments such as electricity, telephone security, etc.  All essential payments are not covered by the government. For example, per funding formula his school gets only Rs:800 to cover electricity costs but the actual cost is around 2000. The annual budget for the school is averaged Rs: 247,000. The government grant received through the provincial fund is about 5-8% of the total. The qualitative input grant from the provincial fund which depends on an application submitted by principal and other ad hoc inputs constitutes 37%-13% of the budget for miscellaneous inputs from the government. The biggest component is money raised by the School Development Society (SDS) and parent contributions. It ranges from 58%-79% in 2019-2020.

Expenditures, Belummahara  Sri Rahula Kanishta Vidyalaya


2019 2020
Government grants 5% 8%
Miscellaneous other inputs from government 37% 13%
SDS/Parent contributions 58% 79%


 TOTAL Expenditure 263,447  231,463


Since taking up his appointment three years ago he realized the school needs extra-curricular activities to complete the learning experience of the students. Now the school has Chess club, School band, Cricket, Karate, Swimming, Scouting and an Environmental Club. Altogether it takes him an additional Rs: 320,000 to maintain these programs and other maintenance activities. The money is raised through the School Development Society. Their trust in him is the main factor which makes such fund-raising possible.

Some other programs include Aruna Buddhi Prabha (Morning Wisdom) running from 5-630 AM on weekdays and 5-8 AM on weekends, and Nisha Buddhi Prabha (Evening Wisdom) running from 6-10 pm on weekdays for additional study sessions for children. A designated teacher oversees each session. A morning meal is also provided by the parents for the children. WE estimate that school raises and spends about Rs: 1,400 for student development .

During his short tenure the principal has been able to raise funds from parents and well-wishers for capital projects too. Public address system (150,000), Student leader jackets (150,000), Playground (150,000), CCTV camera system (300,000), School wall  (500,000), Smart Board (Rs: 250,000), School boundary wall (500,000), Smart classroom (500,000), Flag base (850,000) and Peo TV system (950,00) for more than 3.5 million rupees in million in capital expenditures.

According to a member of the Royal Union, the Old Students’ Association of Royal College, the operations budget of the college can come to 100 -200 million budget. With 8000+ enrolment rate the amount spent on a student can be from 12,500 to 25,000 rupees.

In sum, the government only pays for salaries and some portions of essential expenditures. Schools must secure unmet costs for essentials like electricity and for extra-curricular work and other student development activities. Annual per student spending for essentials and student development can vary greatly from a few 100 rupees to, to about Rs: 700 in a school like Sri Rahula KV and Rs: 10,000 or more in a school like Royal College.  No wonder some schools are more popular than others.

Provincial level

There is bound to be quite a bit of variation across schools in regard to per capita spending on student development because it is doubtful all principals would be as committed as Mr. Janaka and all school communities would be able to support their school to the same extent. Despite claims for free education, in Sri Lanka we essentially have a school system which gives widely varying learning experiences for students depending on the income level of the parents.

How can we minimize the differences in the learning experience of the students?

Mr. K. Suwarnarajh, former President of National College of Education, Vavuniya, gave some ideas as to how the state can make school funding more equitable.

He noted that schools receive funding from the following sources

  • Government Funds (Provincial fund; and Special projects and Grants from the Central Government)
  • Non-governmental (Parent, well-wishers, old student’s associations, NGOs
  • Income received from school, land & buildings

The fund received from parents, well-wishers and old student association depends on the (1) The affection & loyalty with the school, (2) Economic condition of the school society (3) Number of old student (4) The principal’s leadership in raising funds & utilization of the funds received by the school.

The schools in the Northern Province are of three types according to the strength of the old students’ associations – those that receive funds from 1) Local and foreign sources; (2) Local sources only (3) Little to no funding. Most schools are in the third category.

Expenditure at school level is of two types – operational and developmental. Operational essentials include electricity, telephone, cleaning, maintenance & security. Development expenditures include curriculum implementation, physical resource development, teacher development, student development, library development and co-curricular activities.

Funding from Old Students’ Association funds can be limiting because they either fund to popularize their old student association name or develop certain areas according to their desires. In some rare cases the school principal determines the needs. Another limitation of non-governmental funding is that these funds are usually directed at physical developments. The funding for the student’s leadership development or teacher’s development is very less.

Mr. Suwarnarajah suggests the following to make the funding for student development more equitable:

  • A trust should be established at provincial level
  • NGOs should be encouraged to donate to this fund
  • The trust should assess the needs of the school and make grants as needed
  • Principals should be trained to prepare project proposals and reports.

Line Ministry Level

Dr. Madhura Wehelle, Additional Secretary for Policy and Planning, presented the budget process at the Ministry. The education allocation for 2021 is 306 billion of which 162 billion is designated for the provincial schools. She was not able to give an exact number for expenditure on 373 national schools, because of the complexity of the budget with allocations distributed across the line ministry and four state ministries. She invited researchers at the forum to do an in-depth analysis of education funding. The other key information that she shared is that 95% of education spending is for salaries. This is a clue as to why there is no money for student development. Our school education system is essentially a mechanism for providing employment.

1 Comment

  1. This is surely depressing to read ! 95% of education spending is for salaries – a similar situation in R&D spending as well if perhaps one digs deep. Wish to listen to other earlier recordings and please let me know how

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