MANILA – Two panels of the House of Representatives have formed a technical working group (TWG) to harmonize several bills that would expand the use of the Special Education Fund (SEF).

During a joint committee hearing on Thursday, the House Committee on Local Government and the Committee on Basic Education and Culture created a joint TWG to consolidate and fine-tune House Bills (HB) 558, 1200, 1286, 1530, 1619, 3018, 3512, 1583, and 5932, all of which seek to amend the Local Government Code of 1991 to expand the purpose and application of the SEF.

Pasig City Rep. Roman Romulo, chair of the House Committee on Basic Education and Culture, said HB 1530 endows the Department of Education (DepEd) with authority to levy funds from the SEF in times of national emergencies or when the Executive Department deems it.

It also proposes to allow the employment of administrative or non-teaching staff to help the teachers concentrate on the students.

Romulo said the proposed amendments would improve responsiveness not only to the ongoing impact of the pandemic, but also the country's adaptability to future emergencies of this magnitude.

"It cannot be gainsaid that the welfare of our learners is of paramount importance. Although we are keen on continuing the education of our learners within a paradigm of the Covid-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) crisis, we are intent on making sure that the quality of education that we deliver is competent even under normal circumstances," he said.

Romulo's proposal under HB 1530 also gives priority to the provision of school uniforms and accessories.

Pangasinan Rep. Christopher de Venecia, author of HB 1286, said the coverage of the SEF under the Local Government Code, has been very limited and does not necessarily address the current needs and priorities of the public school system.

"Thus, expanding the coverage of the SEF into a more current listing would be able to afford the flexibility of our public schools to address their pressing concerns that would not be immediately answered by the national appropriations," he said.

De Venecia's bill, meanwhile, seeks more funding for the early childhood care and development program.

He also prioritized the construction of more creative learning spaces, libraries, and other facilities and improvements of public elementary and secondary schools. (PNA)