Victorian state schools plead for parental contributions

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“Unfortunately, public schools still have to beg, borrow and hopefully not steal from parents and the community to provide basic necessities for their children,” he said. “The reason they have to do that is … in Victoria and almost every state school in the rest of Australia other than ACT are underfunded.”

Zyngier said some schools were underfunded by up to $2 million.

“So no matter how much the parents contribute, it’s never going to make up for that shortfall.”

At Melbourne High School, voluntary contributions were $3600 for a Year 9 student, in addition to the cost of a school-approved computer, uniforms and books. Principal Tony Mordini wrote to parents that the select school’s programs “cannot be delivered without your financial contributions.”

Andrew Dalgleish, president of the Victorian Principals Association, said each school faced different challenges and some communities had greater potential to contribute.

“The challenge for schools is, how do we pay for it when we find that we may not have enough money in our budget to do that?” he said.

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Dalgleish expects schools to receive lower contributions this year due to cost-of-living pressures.

“There will be some parents 12 months ago who would have been fine with it, but if their mortgage rates rise, they will struggle to contribute to their child’s education. I think we’re in for a pretty rocky half year. There’s still plenty of federal funding going to our expensive independent and Catholic schools, and yet we’re still here [the] government system… soliciting voluntary contributions from people who may not be able to pay.

He said families can make payment arrangements and most principals would understand if parents talked to them about not being able to pay the costs.

North Geelong Secondary College wrote to parents a week before Christmas requesting automatic access to social benefits for voluntary contributions.

Subsequently, the Ministry of Education was instructed to adjust the form so that it is clearer to parents that all contributions are voluntary.

Principal Nick Adamou said that while schools provide free instruction and all payments are voluntary, they ensure the school can provide the best education and support for students.

Parent payments and fundraising have enabled the college to limit class size, he said. They’ve also moved to sports, language and math programs, instrumental music and even faster Wi-Fi.

Trevor Cobbold, the national organizer of Save Our Schools, said some voluntary payment notices were still “misleading” as some were sent in the form of an invoice even though they clearly stated they were voluntary.

“That gives the impression that they are not voluntary,” he said.

He added that more help should be provided to families who are struggling.

“How many migrant families will walk up to the director and say, ‘We’re poor, we’re not going to pay,'” he said.

Cobbold said voluntary contributions supplemented an underfunded state school system.

“Victoria is the second worst funded system in the country. So of course schools are under pressure and they are putting pressure on parents.”

Australian Principals Federation president Tina King said schools will buy some classroom materials through voluntary contributions and teachers will even buy materials themselves.

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“They often pocket their own money. It’s not what we endorse or advocate.”

According to the 2021 Australian Education Union State of Our Schools survey, 84 percent of public school teachers spend an average of $883 a year of their own money on supplies, and 90 percent of primary school teachers spend an average of $1110.

King said the revisions to the parent payment policy and the refinement of allowable wording for families have had an impact on contributions.

“While a small percentage of school payments have increased, we know across the board that schools have also taken a hit,” she said.

“That detracts from the rich opportunities that the schools offer.”

But she said schools will do everything they can to make sure students aren’t disadvantaged if they can’t contribute to voluntary payments.

Social campaigner Les Twentyman said the reality for families is that education is not free.

“Families who cannot afford the cost of ‘voluntary’ school fees are often publicly shamed or excluded from various school activities, which can negatively impact a child as no child in school wants to feel any different. ,” he said. “So if you’re carrying second-hand books, wearing an old uniform, or not being allowed to do certain activities, it could cause a child to withdraw from their education or refuse to go to school.”

Viewbank College, in Melbourne’s northeast, told parents that while schools provide free instruction to meet the standard curriculum, other programs the college offers add to the cost of education.

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“Our college prides itself on the quality of our facilities and resources for our students to enjoy, and few schools match the many programs we offer to meet student needs and interests. However, these are not without additional costs,” wrote director Sharon Grimes.

Those perks included additional science, technology, and performing arts support staff, and resources such as 3D laser printers.

Meredith Peace, president of the Australian Education Union Victoria, said that if Victoria’s public schools were fully funded by the federal and state governments, they would not depend on contributions from teachers and parents to provide the resources students need for high quality education.

“The need for parents to contribute to the cost of educational resources creates more inequality in the system, where families who can pay more benefit more than families who cannot,” she said.

“These contributions also place a significant burden on teachers who don’t want students to miss out, and who love nothing more than to provide the education their students need and deserve, even at significant and unreasonable personal costs.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Education and Training said the Ministry’s policy on parent payments was clear – that any contribution must be voluntary. “Voluntary parental contributions contribute to enriching the educational experience in schools,” said the spokesperson.

No child can be disadvantaged or denied education in the standard Victorian curriculum unless a voluntary financial contribution is made. Families can apply for support through schools and the State School Fund.

If you’re struggling with school costs, you can contact the Les Twentyman Foundation and other support services here.

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