More than 95,000 of the nation’s poorest children and teenagers have millions of colones in monthly scholarships waiting for them at the Finance Ministry, but can’t access them because public school nominating committees have apparently failed to file the necessary paperwork – putting some students in danger of dropping out of school.
Two weeks into the 2006 school year, the National Scholarship Fund (FONABE) had received approximately 45,000 nominations for the 140,939 grants available for this school year, according to Rocío Solís, president of the fund’s board of directors. She told The Tico Times Tuesday that if the remaining names are not submitted by today, the cutoff date, those students will miss their February payment because the monthly grants – most of which range from $12-20 – cannot be paid retroactively. School personnel have been aware of the requirements for nominations since October, she added.
However, she praised schools for responding to FONABE’s call for faster name-submission last week, when only 14,302 grants had been approved.
“We’ve received a good response,” she said. “The committees have been overloaded.” Solís, who is also the director of the Public Education Ministry’s Office for Children and Adolescents, said the office is planning changes for next year including a much earlier deadline to prevent rushing and delays as the school year begins. The nominating committees could submit a preliminary list partway through the school year, then make the necessary revisions – for example, adding new students and removing students who don’t show up for class – once the new school year begins, thus speeding up the process, she said.
“Costa Ricans have this bad habit, leaving everything to the last minute,” she said. For students like José Julio Cruz, 13, delays in the payment of grants could end their school careers. Cruz told the daily La Nación he rides his bicycle 13 kilometers to school each day because the bus costs ¢600 ($1.20).
“If the Public Education Ministry doesn’t help me, I’ll have to abandon my studies,” he said.
Jesús Vásquez, head of the National Association of High-School Teachers, told The Tico Times the situation is “unfortunate” and that “we all know the grants are a necessity for students,” but said FONABE, and not schools’ nominating committees, could be to blame.
“We have to verify whether schools haven’t sent the information,” he said, adding that it’s possible the press is blaming educators when the problem lies at FONABE, which must approve all grant requests before students receive funds.
However, Solís said FONABE approves the grants “immediately.”
The bulk of the grants consists of monthly payments of ¢6,000 ($12) per month for elementary school and ¢9,000 ($18) for high school. Larger grants are also given to children who work on the street, pregnant teenagers, students with disabilities, and university students with limited resources. A total of ¢7 billion ($14 million) is available for this year.
For the funds to reach students’ families, the grant committee of each public school must create a list of beneficiaries and send the list to FONABE, where social workers and finally the board of directors approve the candidates. The Finance Ministry then turns over the funds to students.
FONABE also provides one-time scholarships at the beginning of the year, designed to cover costs such as the purchase of uniforms or school supplies. These ¢13,000 ($26) payments, known as bonos, are being granted now as well, but have not suffered the delay of the monthly grants, or becas.