Under the 2018 Compulsory Education Law, education from six-years of primary school to the end of three-years of junior high school is compulsory and guaranteed free access.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) directly administers 75 key universities (重点大学). Local education bureaus financially and politically control the rest of the educational institutions, from primary education to university. Even though local education bureaus are recognised by the MOE, they are funded by the local government instead of the MOE.
According to the State Council, the total expenditure on education in 2017 was US$ 617.4 billion (RMB 4 256 billion), and government expenditure on education was US$496.3 billion (RMB 3 420 billion) or 4.14% of the GDP. National operating expenses are allocated by the local treasury through local education bureaus. The operating expenses are calculated based on teacher costs (including salaries, benefits, pensions, subsidies for location and experience), scholarships and school maintenance fees. In 2005, the State Council issued the Notice of the State Council on Deepening the Reform of Funds for Rural Compulsory Education. The law mandated that local governments and the central government share education expenses in rural areas. By 2010, 97% of the total educational investment in rural compulsory education came from budgetary government appropriation for education. In 2017, of the general transfer by the central government, 2.53% was allocated to urban and rural compulsory education subsides.
Students do not pay tuition fees, but there are still incidental costs for textbooks and school boards. To avoid arbitrary billing, the Ministry of Education has implemented a fee system in which schools can charge ancillary fees only once a semester and the fees are set for different student groups. The amount depends on the student's local registration and resistance status.
Schools that accommodate the following vulnerable groups are entitled for subsidies.
According to the National Promotion of Special Education II(2017-2020), special education schooling receives a US$ 870 (RMB 6 000) public subsidy per student per school year.
Ethnicity and language
The MOE and National Ethnic Affairs Commission (NEAC) are responsible for education of 56 different ethnicities and 705 country-level administrative divisions of ethnic autonomous areas. According to the Language Situation in China published in 2005, 21.3 million ethnic minority students could get access to education, six million of them could get access to bilingual education (Mandarin and their own language), and 235,000 teachers in those schools could speak at least two languages (Mandarin and another ethnic minority language). According to the 2019 financial budget report, NEAC allocated US$ 696.3 million (RMB 4.8 billion) to general education for ethnic minorities in 2018.
According to results from the Compulsory Education Project, which is aimed at poverty stricken areas, the government spent US$570.0 million (RMB 3.9 billion) from 1995 to 2000 on a compulsory education programme. According to the data, $ US$410 million (RMB 2.8 billion) was allocated to western inland regions and US$159.6 million (RMB 1.1 billion) was allocated to 852 different villages or towns below the poverty line.
In 2006, Central government introduced the Two Exemptions One Subsidy policy (两免一补) for 16 million students living in 592 state-designated areas for poverty alleviation and development. Primary school students received on average $US$13.1 (RMB 90) and junior high school students receive on average US$11.6 (RMB 80). The policy spent a total of US$3.5 billion (RMB 22.7 billion) in three years.
There are also some non-boarding schools that provide dormitories for those students living far away from the campus. The target for the policy (两免一补) is for all the boarding students living below the poverty line to receive subsidies for their living expenses. The central government provides subsidies for rural boarding students in the central and western regions. Primary school students receive US$0.3 (RMB 2) per capita per day, and junior high school students receive US$0.4 (RMB 3), calculated for 250 days per year.
For college students from families that are under the poverty line, financial grants are offered by central governments. According to the file that was published by MOE in 2007, the standard grant is US$290 (RMB 2 000) per student annually, but depending on the condition of the family, the grant can vary from US$145 (RMB 1 000) to US$435 (RMB 3 000). For boarders from families under the poverty line, financial grants are offered by the local and central governments proportionally. The standard grant is US$145 (RMB 1 000) per student annually for primary school students and US$181 (RMB 1 250) per student annually for secondary school students.
For students requiring special education, the central government sets the basic school-operation standards and the local governments set the per student funding standards. In 2016, the per capita grant was US$870 (RMB 6 000) each year.
According to the Law on the Protection of Persons with Disabilities (2017 Revision), the central government divided people living with disabilities into 10 different levels: Level-1 (heaviest) to level-10 (lightest). For students with disabilities designated as Level 1, 100% of the annual subsidy is provided. For level 2, the amount is 90% of the subsidy all the way to Level where only 10% is provided. According to the ministry of civil affairs , the central government has allocated US$ 4.4 billion (RMB 30 billion) for those 2 types of subsidies from 2016 to 2018 and helped 10 million people with disabilities, which means US$2.2 billion has been allocated each year, which takes 0.44% of the educational expenditure. It also has a child education subsidy which ranges from US$ 145.1 – US$ 435.2 (RMB 1 000 – RMB 3 000) per year.