Bihar needs 75.13% more classrooms in its state-run elementary schools than it has and 232% more rooms for its head teachers. Similarly, it needs 7,91,614 teachers for Classes 1 to 8 in state-run schools, but has only 47.2% of them. To meet the norms as laid down by the Right to Education Act, 2009, and other guidelines for primary and upper-primary schools, the state will have to spend Rs 18,029 per child per year where it now spends about Rs 5,595. Similarly, Odisha spends less than half of what it should per child to meet the norms, and Madhya Pradesh, a little over half.

Researchers at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy in Delhi have analysed the budgets of 12 states alongside public data on student enrollment and teacher salaries to estimate what it would take for the states to meet minimum standards on education. They have computed the required human and physical resources such as classrooms and teachers, how much more states will have to spend in absolute terms to get them, and what proportion of the gross state domestic product it would represent.

The working paper, Resource requirements for Right to Education (RTE): Normative and Real, by Sukanya Bose, Priyanta Ghosh and Arvind Sardana, covers a dozen states: Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Delhi.

Of the 12 states, it found that “even with minimal norms, there is vast amount of underspending per student” everywhere, except Tamil Nadu. The estimates show what states ought to have spent in 2015-’16.

Given the wide variations in the way the Right to Education Act has been implemented by states, the differing salaries and service conditions of teachers, and the patchy data on groups such as out-of-school children, the authors of the paper have made several assumptions to arrive at their estimates.

Still, the paper’s attempt to quantify the resource gap is significant. As it notes, the last attempt made by the government to estimate the cost of universalising elementary education upto Class 8 was in 2009-’10, around the time the Right to Education Act was passed. Based on this assessment by the Central Advisory Board on Education, the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development had proposed a budget of about Rs 1.82 lakh crore over five years, from 2010, to implement the Act.

“Regrettably, this has been construed as a one-time necessity rather than a continual one,” says the paper. Here is what it has found.

Every state requires more classrooms and teachers than it has.

The resource gap is widest in Bihar for rooms and teachers, but it is substantial in other states too. Delhi needs 25.15% more classrooms, Odisha needs 21.74%, and Rajasthan, 15.55%.

Rooms for head teachers are even harder to come by. Odisha needs 203.14% more head teacher rooms, Karnataka needs 198.67% more, and Tamil Nadu, 176.73%.

Every state needs more teachers. Jharkhand’s current strength is just 56.4% of the requirement, Karnataka’s is 68.1%, and Uttar Pradesh’s, 67.4%.

Of the 12 states considered, government-run schools in Bihar suffer the maximum resource gap.

These estimates are based on student enrollment. For enrollment figures, the authors have considered the number already studying in government and government-aided elementary schools and also included the number of out-of-school children. The first came from the District Information System for Education, the only centrally-maintained database on schooling that can furnish school-level data. The number of out-of-school children was assumed to be the difference between the state’s total population in the relevant age-group and the children already enrolled in school.

Except for obtaining the number of children out of school, the category of fee-paying children in private schools has not been considered at all, neither has the possibility of their moving into the government system. “We have worked out requirements based on the current status of enrollment,” clarified Bose.

In the second step, the authors used the “unit cost” of each input – the cost of building one classroom or the salary of one teacher, for instance – to estimate how much more a state has to spend to close the gaps. Here, too, the most basic of inputs have been considered. Even the availability of toilets in schools has not been factored in.

Three out of 12 states are spending less than half of what is needed per student

All states except Tamil Nadu appear to spend less than what they ought to. Jharkhand spends Rs 8,504 per child per year where Rs 19,396 is required, while Odisha spends just 44.09% of the required Rs 24,701. Delhi, the study says, spends just 62.83% (Rs 9,691) of the required Rs 15,425 even though the state government increased allocation to education massively in 2015.

Per-student spending should be much higher than what it is in most states.

Teachers are the most crucial input and their salaries claim the bulk of the recurring expenditure on education. The paper says on average, 69.4% of expenditure on resources other than infrastructure – such as training, monitoring and mid-day meals – goes into salaries in the states. In Rajasthan, over 85% of the expenditure on inputs other than infrastructure goes into salaries. This includes training, incentives to students, mid-day meals and the monitoring mechanism. In Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, it is over 70%.

However, some state budgets do not clarify exactly how much of the allocations made for education are available specifically for elementary and secondary schools, which the authors caution could lead to over or underestimation of spending.

To calculate the funds required to pay the additional teachers, the authors have used what Tamil Nadu pays a regular teacher on scale adjusted for average years of service rendered. The salary for a newly recruited teacher is Rs 19,300 in primary schools and Rs 20,300 in upper primary schools per month, while the salary for school heads is Rs 40.000 per month. Some states pay more, some less. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is the main, centrally-sponsored scheme for achieving universal elementary education.

Details of the costs of building classrooms, new schools and minor and major repairs came in part from the Azim Premji Foundation which runs schools, and from agencies such as the Central Public Works Department.

All states except Tamil Nadu spend less than what is needed

Even by considering only the most basic norms, the estimated levels of underspending are startling. Bihar needed to spend Rs 41,261 crore on elementary education but actually spent Rs 12,803 crore in 2015-’16. Jharkhand schools needed Rs 10,202 crore but the state spent Rs 4,473 crore. Madhya Pradesh’s schools required Rs 22,258 crore but got just Rs 11,502 crore.

Tamil Nadu is the only state that appears to allocate sufficient funds to meet education standards.

The increase in expenditure as percentage of the state’s gross domestic product does not sound like much for most states. Tamil Nadu, apparently, requires no increase at all, while Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Karnataka need to increase this expenditure by less than one percentage point each. For Odisha, it is 2.28 percentage points; for Jharkhand, 2.37 percentage points and for Madhya Pradesh, 1.98. Bihar’s will have to be steepest increase – 6.88 percentage points.

Where the increases required seem counter-intuitively low – in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, for instance – the results could be skewed because large numbers of children are enrolled in private schools in these states.

But raising the percentage of the gross state domestic product for education, said Bose, “will not go very smoothly”. After increase in tax devolution in 2015, when the states’ share in the pool of Central taxes was increased, the grants to central schemes such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan were reduced and the Centre-state fund sharing pattern also changed to 60:40 from 72:25. Consequently, states have greater freedom to prioritise sectors for spending now. But, Bose does not see “why states who have not prioritised education before will do so now”.

The total expenditure on education in India, as a 2016 report by the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability has shown, has hovered around 3.9% of the country’s gross domestic product. In the 1960s, the Indian Education Commission (1964-1966), led by educationist DS Kothari, laid down the target at 6% of the gross domestic product. A 2009 academic study, quoted by the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy paper, said even that would not be sufficient to close the gaps in access to, and quality of, education.

Bose believes a central policy is required to ensure funding is raised and backs the idea of what she calls “tied” assistance from the Centre – funds that states will be compelled to spend on education. Also, the paper suggests that costs must be worked out for the states individually, rather than for the country as a whole.