The Minnis administration is making one of the greatest investments in education in Bahamian history with the implementation of a preschool to university free education strategy, Prime Minister the Most Hon. Dr. Hubert Minnis said on Wednesday in his contribution to the 2019/20 Budget debate.
For the upcoming budget period, a total of $21 million have been allocated for tuition grant programs at the University of The Bahamas (UB) and the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI).
The Government is also expanding the Universal Pre-Primary Education initiative to ensure that, over time, all 3- and 4-year olds have access to quality preschool education.
“Under our far reaching and ambitious preschool to university free education strategy we are aggressively promoting social mobility, social equality and social justice,” said Prime Minister Minnis.
Under the tuition grant program, the Government will cover the payment of tuition and mandatory course-related fees for full time new and returning Bahamian students.
It is estimated that more than 1,500 students will be eligible to benefit from this program, as the University anticipates that there will be over 1,500 full time students enrolling for the 2019/20 academic school year, said the Prime Minister.
Prior to this new program, the total spending on public scholarships and related support at BTVI and UB totaled approximately $5.8 million.
“We are now increasing it to $21 million to fully fund these expanded grant programs that will now effectively cover all Bahamian full-time students,” said Prime Minister Minnis.
“The difference between the $21 million and the $5.8 million, represents $15.2 million in money that students would have otherwise had to come up with to fund their education.”
The Universal Pre-Primary Education initiative seeks to ensure that all Bahamian children have the opportunity to receive early education, which will prepare them for further education and training, said the Prime Minister.
To expand this initiative, the Ministry of Education will partner with approved private preschools through a voucher program for 500 to 1,000 spots annually.
Applicants will first be directed to government-operated schools and once all of the spaces in government-operated public preschools are taken, vouchers will be provided for students to attend a private preschool that has met national standards and has been approved by the Government, the Prime Minister explained.
The voucher will be worth approximately $2,000 per year and will be paid directly to the selected private preschool to cover tuition and learning supplies for the preschooler.
As a part of the expansion, the Government will also set aside $1 million, initially through the Small Business Development Centre and the Bahamas Entrepreneurial Venture Fund, for the development of preschools.
This funding will support equity and loans up to $150,000 to qualifying educational institutions that offer preschool education and that are participating in the Ministry of Education’s Universal Pre-school program.
“Participation in an early child education program for three- and four-year olds improves literacy, mathematics, and numeracy skills,” said Prime Minister Minnis.
“What is perhaps the greatest benefit of preschool education, is that it can improve the lives of children across all social and income levels.”