Key requirements of Telangana's proposed legislation on private school fees: Ashish Naredi

While HSPA and the parents have, as such, welcomed the move, they still remain largely skeptical of the government's intent.

By Ashish Naredi  Published on  19 Jan 2022 10:49 AM GMT
Key requirements of Telanganas proposed legislation on private  school fees: Ashish Naredi

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The Telangana government announced on 17th Jan 2022 that it will be bringing in a new legislation to regulate the school fees charged by the private schools in Telangana. HSPA – Hyderabad Schools Parents' Association has been demanding such a legislation for many years now and it is to their credit that the government has finally relented.

This announcement comes in the backdrop of a directive issued by the Hon'ble High Court of Telangana while hearing a batch of petitions filed by HSPA. While HSPA and the parents have, as such, welcomed the move, they still remain largely skeptical of the government's intent. The worry is that the legislation may turn out to be just an eye-wash with lots of loopholes for the schools to exploit.

This write-up is an attempt to encapsulate the key features that any proposed fee regulatory mechanism or law must have for it to be effective. Having studied the gamut of fee regulatory laws passed in other states and the related Court cases, the author has a good understanding of the issue. The author was also a member of Prof. Tirupathi Rao Committee, formed by the government to suggest a fair fee regulatory mechanism. Hence, well equipped and placed to do the job.

No details of the legislation sought to be introduced by the Telangana government are available as of date. Therefore, it may be a good time for the readers to make a note of the key requirements of such a law so that they may come to their own conclusions, once the details of the proposed law are made public.

Listed hereunder are the critical aspects that any fee regulatory law must have for it to be effective:

1. Define "Fees"

✓ The most critical aspect of any fee regulatory mechanism is to first and foremost define the term "(school) fees" – the very component that is sought to be regulated.

✓ It may seem rather funny but there have been attempts to regulate fees without even defining what all components are a part of the fees.

✓ Case in point being orders (GO RT 75 of 2020) issued by the Telangana government itself during Covid times, wherein it allowed the collection of only "Tuition fees" in schools across the state. But since what constitutes "Tuition fees" was nowhere defined, several schools took the liberty of including transport and food charges as well as a part of "Tuition fees" itself; and also collected the same without ever providing either transport or food to the students as the schools were functioning only in the online mode. More details are in this article.

2. Define fee in terms of Total Amount Collected

✓ The best way to avoid complications and plug loopholes is to define school fees in terms of the amount paid by the parents/students to the school, for whatever purpose (Tuition fee, activity fee, term fee, extra-curricular fee, Transport Fee, Mess Fee, etc.) it may be.

✓ Any other way only leads to endless debates and escape routes. So, was also the opinion of Justice Santosh Duggal who studied the issue under a mandate of the Delhi High court in 1998.

3. Define "Private Schools"

✓ The definition of "Private Schools" which are sought to be regulated, should clearly specify that it means all schools operating in the state, irrespective of the Board of Education SSC/CBSE/ICSE/IGCSE/IB or any other, other than those specifically designated by the government as government schools.

4. Regulate the Fee Charged not (just) the Fee Hiked

✓ Several schools, especially the older and established ones, have been trying to sell this idea to the government that the regulation of the fee hike percentage (around 10% per anum) alone, without regulating the base fee, is the best way to regulate school fees.

✓ If the government accepts this, the likelihood of which seems high, the new legislation will turn out to be a bonanza for the schools and an unmitigated disaster for the parents.

✓ Schools that have been continuously hiking their fees each year, some increasing from around 40K per anum to around 3-4 lacs per anum over the past 10-12 years, would find themselves at liberty to further increase this fee by ~10% every year if the government accepts this dangerous idea.

✓ It may also be noted that all the judgments of all the High courts and Supreme Court have, on their part, recommended regulation of fees and not just fee hikes in order to prevent profiteering.

5. Base year for the calculation of percentage hike to be specified

✓ Even if the legislation were to fix a certain percentage, whatever it may be, of fee hike each year, the base over which this fee hike is allowed/calculated has to be clearly specified.

✓ For instance, let us assume that the Fees charged by a school for class 1 is around 1 lac and for class 2 is around 1.2 lacs, for the academic year 2021-22.

➢ Now, if the government were to allow a 10% hike in fees for the next academic year 2022-23, then what is the fees that will be charged from a student now studying in class 1 (2021-22) and going to class 2 (2022-23)?

➢ Would 10% fee hike be calculated on the basis of (a) fee of Class 1 (in which the student is studying in the present year 2021-22) or (b) fee of Class 2 (class to which the student is going to for the next year 2022-23)?

➢ If the case is former (a) then - the student paying 1 lac in 2021-22 will be paying 1.1 lac in 2022-23 thus giving effect to the actual intended hike of 10%

➢ However, if the case is latter (b) then – the student paying 1 lac for class 1 in 2021-22 would be paying 1.32 lacs in class 2 in 2022-23 (10% of 1.2 lacs = 12000 + 1.2 lacs = 1.32 lacs) amounting to a fee hike of 32% against the intended hike of 10%!

6. Mandatory Prior Approval for fee hike - for all schools.

✓ Some of the legislations, like those brought in Delhi, have tried to suggest post-facto approval i.e. Schools will be at liberty to hike the fees but the parents will have a right to complain and seek redressal.

✓ Experience, however, shows that once the fee is collected, it is almost impossible to get it refunded. Hence, approval before fee hikes is an absolute must.

7. Other Miscellaneous aspects

✓ Parents / Students to have a right to complaint against any order passed by Fee – Regulatory Authority (FRA).

✓ Time-bound disposal of the Complaints/grievances raised by either side – parents/schools.

✓ Parents / Students to get a charter of rights against any targeting or harassment of either the student or the parent.

✓ Schedule of Monetary and non-monetary punishments for each instance of violation by the schools.

✓ The fee is to be hiked only once in 3 years, as is presently done in the case of professional courses.

✓ All data and financial statements of the schools and recommendations of the FRA to be transparently available on the website of FRA

With the criteria for evaluation of the fee regulatory mechanism thus listed, we shall revisit the same to analyse how good or bad the new legislation (for fee regulation proposed by the Telangana Government) turns out to be.

At present we can only hope that most if not all the above points from the above-listed criteria are incorporated in the new legislation.

Disclaimer: The author was an executive member of HSPA and was, earlier, closely associated with its activities. The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not represent the views of NewsMeter. We have not changed, added, or omitted anything to the text. NewsMeter is not responsible for the accuracy of the facts and the content of external links included in the article.

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