State governments have been holding back available resources for education, despite rising incomes and the need for investments to reopen schools, according to a new study of state spending during the coronavirus pandemic.
The survey suggests that most state governments have put education in the background, taking advantage of the suspension period from in-person classes to save cash rather than using it to renovate schools and prepare to welcome students back this year. .
“There was no priority for education, despite the challenges created by the pandemic”, says economist Úrsula Peres, from the University of São Paulo, coordinator of the group that carried out the study, linked to the Solidarity Research Network. “There is a lack of national coordination and planning of actions by the states.”
According to the work, spending on education fell 6.4% in the first half of 2020, compared to the first half of 2019, and decreased again in the first half of this year, with a drop of 1%. Since 2019, the reduction was 7.4% in real terms, already discounted for inflation.
Alagoas, Goiás, Mato Grosso do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul and Sergipe were the states in which education expenditures shrank most during this period, according to the survey. Only nine states increased spending in the area, including Ceará, Espírito Santo, Rio de Janeiro and Santa Catarina.
Funds donated by the federal government last year allowed the states to offset the revenue losses they suffered from the economic crisis caused by the first wave of Covid-19. This year, its revenues increased with the rise of fuel and electricity bills.
The researchers estimate that state and Federal District revenues grew 10% in real terms in the first half of this year, compared to those obtained in the same period last year. The collection of ICMS, the main tax collected by the states, increased by 19%.
Despite the favorable financial situation, the states have been conservative in the administration of resources. Spending on health increased 16% in the first half of last year, compared to the same period in 2019. This year, they remained stable, with an increase of only 0.4%.
The survey considered only liquidated expenses, that is, those in which there was an effective disbursement of funds for payment of personnel, suppliers and other items. In general, governments concentrate in the second half of the year the execution of the expenses foreseen in their budgets.
“The lack of investment in schools can compromise the safety of resuming classroom activities and makes it difficult to recover from the learning delay that occurred during the pandemic”, says Peres. “This tends to aggravate the problems arising from the suspension of classes last year.”
According to the 2020 School Census, there are no toilets in 6% of schools in the country’s state network and 24% lack broadband Internet connection. Some states where expenditure reductions were greater are also among those with the most precarious infrastructure, note the researchers.
With face-to-face classes resuming this semester, several governors have announced measures to bring back students who left schools at the height of the pandemic and provide computers and cell phone chips to teachers and students who were unable to participate in remote activities.
But these initiatives have not always been accompanied by additional resources, the researchers say. In addition, bureaucratic difficulties and the recent enactment of a new Bidding Law have been pointed out by administrators as a reason for delays in contracting works and services.
In São Paulo, expenditure on education has been reduced by 6.4% since the beginning of the pandemic. The state government announced that it will allocate R$1.2 billion to a program that transfers resources directly to schools this and next year, but the amount is lower than that distributed in recent years.
The study’s authors estimate that, in 2019 and 2020, the São Paulo government sent R$ 1.7 billion to schools through this program, in amounts adjusted for inflation. This year, R$ 343 million were distributed by September 30, equivalent to 28% of the total resources promised.
“Schools that receive this money in the last months of the year will have difficulties to spend with the necessary agility”, says Fabio Pereira, a researcher who participated in the study. “The transfer of these resources alleviates political pressures, but it may not achieve the desired results.”
The Federal Constitution determines that the states apply in education at least 25% of their income from taxes. With expenses reduced during the pandemic, many states will struggle to comply with the requirement and may have problems with the auditors of the audit courts.
To prevent this from happening, the Senate approved a constitutional amendment in September that exempts states and municipalities and allows them to offset the difference until 2023. The change still needs to be approved in two rounds by the Chamber of Deputies to be enacted and enter into force.