Nearly 20 million migrant children in China may have a champion for their right to be educated.
The Ministry of Education has proposed a change in the Compulsory Education Law that would require local state-run schools to take responsibility for schooling migrant children.
"We also suggest that local governments allocate compulsory education subsidies based on the actual size of enrollment instead of the number of registered residents," said Yang Jin, deputy director of the ministry's Fundamental Education Division.
However, some big cities have questioned the proposals that pass the buck -- and the bill -- to local authorities.
"The number of migrant children is growing at a speed of 40 percent annually in Beijing, which puts great pressure on local finances," said Zhou Yarong, an official with the Beijing Working Committee on Women and Children.
This year, the city authority has budgeted an additional 48 million yuan (US$5.8 million) to cover the tuition fees for transient children. Each district also contributes money to their education.
"It's a heavy burden on local finances," said Zhang Yuhui, who works at the Shijiazhuang Women's Federation in Hebei Province. Zhang said the city has invested about 5 million yuan (US$604,500) simply to relocate and school children in the last four years, and expects to spend 900,000 yuan (US$108,000) annually.
"Moreover, in many state-run schools, the number of students in one class has grown to 60, or even 80," she said.
Many other cities, such as Wuxi in east China's Jiangsu Province, Shenzhen in south China's Guangdong Province and Fuzhou in east China's Fujian Province, have voiced similar views.
They suggest the central government increase its educational subsidies in these large or medium cities, which receive most migrant families.
Some are calling for a system to transfer subsidies from cities that export migrants to cities that import them. But Yang says neither suggestion is feasible.
"A major hurdle is the difficulty of collecting complete statistics on migrant children in each place," he said.
The migrant children issue is also closely linked with other social issues such as the social welfare system and rural development, which makes the transfer of money far more unrealistic, Yang noted.
However, Yang said the amendment would lead to greater input from central finance to underprivileged rural areas in western and central China in support of local education.
"That's among the possible provisions that aim to balance development between backward and front-running areas," he said.
Song Wenzhen, a division chief at the National Working Committee for Children and Women under the State Council, called on all local authorities to give priority to the establishment of a registration system for migrant children under the age of 16.
In 2002, the central government adopted a policy requiring local finance departments to provide funds for the education of migrant children and to give financial support to schools that have a large proportion of them. Some cities have prohibited the charging of special fees for non-resident children.
However, funding is often insufficient to handle the numbers of children. Some schools thus require registration "donations" for migrant children, which put schooling costs far beyond the means of most migrant families.
China spends 2 percent of its GDP on education, well under the internationally recommended 6 percent. The country now has 19.8 million migrant children under the age of 18, nearly half of whom cannot go to school and 9.3 percent of whom drop out.
(China Daily, China.org.cn November 8, 2004)