LCQ19: Free Quality Kindergarten Education Scheme
Among the kindergartens (KGs) which have currently joined the Free Quality Kindergarten Education Scheme (the Scheme) implemented since the current school year, some KGs still charge their students' parents school fees. Moreover, whole-day or long whole-day KGs which have kitchens complying with the requirements set by the Government in their school premises may receive a cook's grant, but the grant may not be sufficient for covering the expenses on their cooks' salaries. KGs may also apply for collecting meal charges from their students' parents to cover meal-related expenditure (e.g. expenditure on food ingredients, cooking utensils and the cooks' salaries in part or in full). In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the current number of KGs which have joined the Scheme and have been approved to charge school fees; a breakdown of that figure by District Council district and types of KGs (i.e. half-day, whole-day and long whole-day), and in respect of each type of such KGs in each district:
(i) the total number of places provided and its respective percentages in (a) the total number of places provided by KGs which have joined the Scheme and (b) the total number of places provided by all KGs, in the district concerned; the highest, lowest, median and average amounts of school fees collected in this school year by such KGs from their students' parents; and
(ii) the number of KGs with students who still need to pay school fees after receiving the highest fee remission; the total number of places provided by such KGs and its respective percentages in (a) the total number of places provided by KGs which have joined the Scheme and (b) the total number of places provided by all KGs, in the district concerned; the highest, lowest, median and average amounts of school fees payable by their students' parents in this school year after receiving the highest fee remission;
(2) whether it knows how the amounts of meal charges, payable in the first year of implementation of the Scheme by parents of the students of KGs which have joined the Scheme, compare with those paid in the previous year by parents of the students of such KGs; if it does, of the details;
(3) whether it knows the number of KGs which have to use the income from meal charges to meet the shortfall because the cook's grant is insufficient for meeting the expenses on their cooks' salaries;
(4) whether it will raise the level of the cook's grant and stipulate that KGs may not use the income from meal charges to meet expenses on their cooks' salaries, in order to ensure the quality of the meals for the students; and
(5) whether it will consider providing additional financial assistance to those KGs which are not receiving the cook's grant, so as to reduce the amount of meal charges payable by their students' parents; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
The objectives of the new kindergarten (KG) education policy are to provide good quality and highly affordable KG education, enhance the accessibility of students to different modes of services that suit their specific needs and, in tandem, maintain the high level of flexibility, diversity and vibrancy in KG operation. Under the new policy, while the Government has substantially increased subsidies to KGs, we could not fully subsidise all modes of services provided by different school sponsoring bodies based on their different development targets. This is also not prudent use of public resources. In principle, government subsidies should be sufficient for KGs joining the Free Quality Kindergarten Education Scheme (the Scheme) to provide quality half-day (HD) services. Individual KGs may need to charge school fees mainly to defray rental expenses that are not fully covered by rental subsidy. For whole-day (WD) or long WD (LWD) services, under the co-payment basis between the Government and parents, parents have to bear part of the additional cost. In the 2017/18 school year, 748 KGs have joined the Scheme. Among them, about 500 KGs are offering half-day (HD) programmes and about 90 per cent of them are free; about 610 KGs are offering WD/LWD programmes and about 70 per cent of them collect school fees below $1,000 per month. The percentage increase is significant when compared with the corresponding figure of only five per cent in the 2016/17 school year. Needy families may be granted fee remission.
My reply to the question raised by the Hon Michael Tien is as follows:
(1) (i) The respective number of Scheme-KGs collecting school fees and the respective number and percentage of eligible students (note 1) paying school fees by District Council district and type of KG (i.e. HD, WD and LWD) are tabulated at Annex I. The respective weighted average school fees, median school fees, highest school fees and lowest school fees collected by these KGs (by District Council district and type of KGs) (note 2) are tabulated at Annex II.
(ii) As the number of Scheme-KGs collecting school fees after deducting government subsidies and fee remission is small, it may be misleading to analyse the data by the number of highest, lowest, median and average school fees. Besides, the situation where parents are still required to pay school fees after receiving government subsidies is affected by various factors (for instance, various considerations affecting parental choices, individual districts more affected by cross-district schooling, etc.). Hence, to present the figures by district may lead to misunderstanding. As such, the analysis is based on the types of KGs (HD and WD/LWD (note 3)) and the various amounts of school fees. The respective number is tabulated at Annex III.
(2) In the 2017/18 school year, the average meal charges of Scheme-KGs is $4,293 per annum (about $358 per month on a 12-month basis) while the corresponding figure of these KGs in the 2016/17 school year was $5,514 (about $460 per month on a 12-month basis), representing a decrease of about 22 per cent in comparison.
(3) We have not collected information on whether the Scheme-KGs need to collect meal charge to defray the expenses on cooks that are not fully covered by the grant for a cook. Hence, we are unable to provide the relevant figures.
(4) and (5) To unleash the potential of the local labour force under the population policy, we provide additional subsidies for WD and LWD services on a co-payment basis between the Government and parents, where parents should bear part of the additional costs (including school fees and meal charges, etc.).
WD and LWD KGs with a kitchen are provided with an additional subsidy to employ cooks. In the 2017/18 school year, the amount of the grant for a cook is about $15,755 per month and the recommended range of monthly salary for a cook is $13,850 to $16,160. The grant is generally sufficient for covering the salary expenses of a full-time cook. Even if the salary of the cook of these KGs reaches the highest point of the salary range and some KGs may use part of the income from meal charges to pay for the difference, since the amount involved is not large, the corresponding increase in meal charges per student is actually insignificant. The quality of meals for students should not be affected.
As mentioned above, under the new policy, parents receiving WD and LWD services will bear part of the expenses, including meals charges, etc. Since the 2017/18 school year is the first-year implementation of the new policy, we have no plans at this stage to modify the implementation details, such as the subsidy rate and eligibility criteria for the grant for a cook, etc. We will continue to examine the progress in the implementation of the new policy and support various stakeholders in implementing the new policy smoothly with a view to achieving the policy objectives.
Note 1: The modes of operation for KGs are highly flexible. They promptly respond to parents' needs on the provision of HD and WD places. We are of the view that presentation of data by number of students (instead of by school places) can better reflect the actual situation of parents paying school fees.
Note 2: Calculated on the basis of provisional figures as at September 2017, and 12 instalments for school fees per annum.
Note 3: The fee remission ceilings for WD and LWD places are the same.
Ends/Wednesday, January 10, 2018
Issued at HKT 17:47
Issued at HKT 17:47