Senator Sherwin Gatchalian (Photo courtesy of Senate PRIB)

MANILA – Senator Sherwin Gatchalian is pushing to have separate line items for the budgets of the Alternative Learning System (ALS) and Special Education (SPED).

Gatchalian made this call during the Senate Committee on Finance’s hearing on the proposed budget of the Department of Education (DepEd) and its attached agencies for Fiscal Year 2023.

While the DepEd proposed a PHP532 million budget for SPED, the program is unfunded under the proposed 2023 National Expenditure Program (NEP).

Funding for ALS, on the other hand, is lodged under flexible learning options (FLOs).

Considering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and school closures on ALS learners and learners with disabilities, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education has been emphasizing the need to support ALS learners and learners with disabilities.

Based on DepEd data as of March 14, 2022, there were 126,598 learners with disabilities enrolled in DepEd schools for School Year (SY) 2021-2022, which is 65 percent lower than the 360,879 recorded for SY 2019-2020.

For SY 2021-2022, there were 472,869 learners enrolled in ALS, which is 38 percent lower compared to pre-pandemic levels.

“Hopefully, we can allocate an additional budget for SPED, I think that is an item that we can improve on. We can also improve on the allocation for ALS. Traditionally, we are encouraging the department to create a separate line item for that so that ALS will have its own line item to spend,” Gatchalian said.

During the 18th Congress, Gatchalian authored and sponsored Republic Act 11510, the Alternative Learning System Act, which institutionalizes, strengthens, and expands the ALS program to provide increased opportunities for out-of-school children in special cases and adult learners, including indigenous peoples, to develop basic and functional literacy and life skills, and pursue an equivalent pathway to complete basic education.

Gatchalian also co-authored and sponsored Republic Act 11650, the Instituting a Policy of Inclusion and Services for Learners with Disabilities in Support of Inclusive Education Act, which mandates all public and private schools to ensure equitable access to quality education for every learner with disability, such that no learner shall be denied admission on the basis of disability. (PNA)