The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education (DOE) may claim the largest share of the 2019/20 provincial budget, at R54 billion, but it is severely underfunded and therefore cannot fulfil all its responsibilities.Delivering his maiden budget speech on Wednesday, new Education MEC Kwazi Mshengu pleaded for additional funding, which he said was needed for the department to deliver optimally as it serviced one of the poorest provinces.“At the risk of sounding pompous, the size of this department is only second to the South African Defence Force. However, that is not reflective on the budget allocated over years,” he said.On the priorities for this financial year, Mshengu said R80 million has been allocated to maintain the continuous upward trajectory on the improvement of the quality of results across all grades. This includes interventions in schools that show signs of instability, poor management and are under performing. More than R2 billion has been set aside for the infrastructural maintenance of schools. From this amount, schools in Quintiles 1, 2 and 3 will receive a total share of R1,9 billion. “These schools will continue to receive a per learner allocation of R955. Schools in Quintiles 4 and 5 will also continue receive a per learner allocation of R522 and R179, respectively,” said Mshengu. He said the department will continue to remove asbestos roofs in 455 schools and “eradicate” pit latrines in 1 377 schools, plus repair storm-damaged schools. He said the department needed additional funding of R948 million in order to meet the required national per learner allocation of R1 394 per pupil in Quintile 1 and 2 schools — which are those the poorest communities. He called for communities to take charge of the safety of the schools in their areas, saying institutions of learning had become soft targets to criminals. This, he said, resulted in attacks on teachers and pupils, as well as the brazen destruction of school property as seen at Mnyezaneni High in Mpofana.“While we plead with communities to work with the department, we equally want to send a stern warning that we will not rebuild schools that are deliberately vandalised by communities until the perpetrators are arrested.“People need to take full responsibility of their actions and communities must learn not to protect criminals.”The department is planning to build an agricultural school in uMgungundlovu District, a maritime school and a specialised autism school. Mshengu said they had also allocated R32 million, through a conditional grant, to take care of pupils with severe to profound intellectual disabilities.More than R2,2 million pupils in 5 258 schools will continue to get their daily meals as DOE has budgeted R1,6 billion for the National School Nutrition Programme.Mshengu said one of the critical functions that the department needed an additional R125 million for was to transport for 42 000 “audited and confirmed qualifying learners” across the province. Treasury gave DOE R331 million for pupil transport but it is only enough to cater for the 58 816 pupils already benefiting from the programme. The province is planning to spend R1,3 billion on learning and teaching support material for the class of 2020.The Department of Women has given the provincial DOE a grant of R27 million to make and distribute sanitary towels to close to a million girls across KZN.