This is admission season for Chinese schools. But in big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, migrant workers without hukou (household registration) face huge problems in getting their children admitted to schools.
Over the past few years, the government has taken measures to ensure migrant workers' children enjoy equal education rights. But since in cities like Beijing and Shanghai education resources are becoming increasingly tight because of rising migrant populations, some local governments have introduced some regulations for non-local school-age children, such as place of residence, hukou and and social security, for enrollment in schools.
Premier Li Keqiang said in this year's Government Work Report that the government will implement the policy of enabling migrant workers' children to receive compulsory education in the place they reside.
And although there is general consensus that such children should enjoy equal education rights, it is difficult to eliminate the threshold of enrollment and get every child into school.
According to Ministry of Education data, about 80 percent of migrant workers' children who are eligible to get education in cities study in public schools without paying any extra fees. But to ensure equal education rights, all migrant workers' children, not just those who are "eligible", should be admitted to schools.
Many of the ineligible children have to go back to their rural homes to get compulsory education. In the process, they become "left behind children" and face immense difficulties in the next stage of education.
In 2008, the State Council, China's Cabinet, required local authorities to deal with this issue based on the principle that migrant workers' children should receive compulsory education "mainly in the place they reside and mainly in public schools". But since migrant workers' population has sharply increased over the past years, urban education resources are falling short. As a result, an increasing number of migrant workers' children cannot get compulsory education in urban areas. In fact, even some city-born school-age children (without hukou in local areas) cannot get admitted to schools if they have a hukou in another city.
Two factors are responsible for this situation. First, some local governments have introduced difficult enrollment requirements to control the inflow of migrant workers. Some local governments have shut down schools for migrant workers' children without taking steps to provide compulsory education to them, while some schools don't admit migrant workers' children forcing them go back to their hometowns to receive education.
Local governments in places with large inflows of migrant workers are responsible for providing their children proper education. And there is no reason for them to deny equal education rights to such children on the pretext of controlling urban populations. In this regard, the National People's Congress, the top legislature, should strengthen supervision to ensure the Compulsory Education Law is fully implemented.
Second, the security mechanism for compulsory education expenditure is unreasonable, because it is borne mainly by county-level financial departments in rural areas and district-level financial departments in urban areas. The problem is that the greater the flow of migrant workers in a district, the higher the compulsory education expenditure will be for the district government, which can be a heavy burden.
In 2014, the State provided billions of yuan to local governments in areas with high inflows of migrant workers. But that comprised just a small part of the expenditure on compulsory education of migrant workers' children, for in some big cities such expenditures could be up to 6 billion yuan a year compared with the less than 200 million yuan they get.
Therefore, provincial-level instead of county-and district-level governments should pay the compulsory education expenditure, and the central fiscal transfer should be increased.
Under such circumstances, students' education expenditure could migrate with the students to the inflow areas, which will reduce inflow areas' extra fiscal burden.
To fully safeguard the education rights of migrant workers' children, the local governments should lift all restrictions and allow all school-age migrant workers' children to get compulsory education.
The author is vice-president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute.
(Source: China Daily)
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