Over 3,900 children of migrant workers in four private schools in Shanghai have begun to enjoy the same education subsidy as those of permanent city residents - still an exceptional example in China.
The four schools for children of migrant workers in the Pudong New District of Shanghai have recently been covered in government-subsidized compulsory education, after the schools' status was recognized by the government as eligible corporate bodies for teaching.
Cao Xikang, director of the Social Development Bureau of the Pudong New District said that the district approves 1,900 yuan (256 U.S. dollars) in annual subsidy for children of permanent residents to complete schooling for their nine years of compulsory education. The policy has been extended to children of migrant workers this year.
China has about 150 million migrant workers in cities. Children of the migrant workers are either left behind in rural homes or live with their parents in cities. However, those who study in cities do not enjoy the same tuition policy for schooling as city residents, as the policy is seen as a welfare benefit for permanent residents.
Pudong is an affluent district in Shanghai, China's financial center, where the local government's education expenditure is one of the highest in China.
"There are 23 schools set up privately to enroll children of migrant workers in Pudong. Many of these schools operate like unregistered private businesses, which profit from collecting school fees and evade government's supervision," said Cao, when explaining why only four schools were given the subsidies.
He said that the government subsidies were earmarked directly to the four schools' bank accounts to cover the students' tuition, since the schools have opened their financial accounts for the government's viewing.
Liu Cheng, a grade six student in Dabieshan School for Children of Migrant Workers said the school has cut the tuition by half this year and imposes no extra charges for interest activities and school outfits.
"I paid 600 yuan (81 U.S. dollars) to the school for my son this year, compared with 1,400 yuan (189 U.S dollars) last year. The subsidy helped lift our burden for living in Shanghai. The cost for living here is very high for our migrants," said Liu's father Liu Aitian.
Shanghai's per capita monthly income in 2005 was 1,554 yuan (197 U.S. dollars), while that of half the migrant laborers in the city was less than 800 yuan (101 U.S. dollars), with 19.67 percent below 500 yuan (63 U.S. dollars), according to a survey conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics in November last year.
The social development official in Pudong said that the district government would assist the remaining 19 schools for children of migrant workers to meet the basic requirements to provide qualified primary school teaching in the next three years.
"As long as the schools meet the criteria and offer transparency in their financial accounts, they will be covered in the government's tuition policy," said Cao.
The Ministry of Education asked its local departments earlier this month to ensure that children of migrant workers were enrolled in government schools and enjoyed the same tuition policies as those of permanent city residents.
However, crowded classrooms in government schools in cities have made it difficult to enroll children of migrant workers.
"Private schools for migrant children are often set up near market places, where migrant workers can easily find jobs. Although some are not eligible, the government should not shut them down once and for all, since they help to solve the education problems for children of migrant workers," said Cao.