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Balance School Budgets: Experts
Primary schools in China's rural areas need more central government funding, especially in the wake of tax-for-fee reforms which have cut local education budgets, top legislators and political advisers said.

Dozens of motions on the shortfall in rural education funding and on revisions to the Compulsory Education Law have been received by the 10th National People's Congress.

Wu Zhengde, a member of the 10th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said the State must promote the "balanced development of compulsory education" in the country.

He said it was unfair that elementary schools in different regions were treated differently.

Wu stated that inappropriate distribution of government funding was a major factor behind regional imbalances in the development of compulsory education.

Wu suggested that both the central and provincial governments increase their educational spending in poor and underdeveloped areas, to narrow the regional gap in school resources.

Primary and middle schools in rural China are funded by local county, township and village governments, leading to sharp differences in school budgets depending on the local authorities' tax income, according to Jiang Zhongyi, a researcher from the Research Center of the Rural Economy under the Ministry of Agriculture.

"The conditions have worsened since last March, when a special surcharge on rural education -- the main source of compulsory education funding in rural China -- was abolished," Jiang told China Daily.

The abolition of the charge is part of the tax-for-fee reform in rural areas, which aims to ease the financial burden on farmers.

Many areas are still to decide how else they will raise their education funding, eroding staff confidence in future investment in schools, said Jiang, after investigating the situation in Northwest China's Gansu Province and Central China's Henan, Hunan and Hubei provinces.

But the researcher said he is satisfied with a regulation issued last year which ensured the salaries of teachers in rural areas would be funded by the county-level government. The financial gap in some poverty-stricken counties will be covered by the central government.

"The policy is the most effective support so far for compulsory education in rural areas," said Jiang.

The researcher noted the gap in educational funding will make it more difficult to increase farmers' incomes and predicted it would become the most serious obstacle to eliminating the inequalities between urban and rural areas.

Ren Jichang, an NPC deputy and principal of the Hangzhou Xuejun Middle School in East China's Zhejiang Province, proposed setting up a special national fund to provide housing, staff and books for poor rural schools.

Another motion, proposed by 34 participants and headed by NPC deputy Zhang Xinshi, recommended the central government return surpluses from value-added and consumption taxes to county governments with annual per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of less than US$800, as special funding for compulsory education in rural areas.

In a guideline on education reform issued in 1994, the central government mapped out a plan to increase spending on education to 4 percent of GDP by 2000. But it stands at only 3.3 percent now.

(China Daily March 17, 2003)

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