Schools told not to press parents into paying for key learning materials
Government schools have been told not to pursue families who do not pay for essential learning materials such as textbooks, stationery and art equipment, but instead to find ways to pay from their own budgets.
The directive from the Department of Education has alarmed state school principals, who say they have always relied on parental contributions to deliver a full education and now face having to cut programs.
State school principals say they have always relied on parental contributions to deliver a full education.Credit:Edwina Pickles
The department says parents can pursue a refund from any school found to be incorrectly charging them "in breach of the policy".
"Where payment is not made for an essential student learning item or activity and the child does not provide their own, the school must make alternative arrangements, eg. make the item available through the school or provide alternative financial support options," a policy document for schools states.
Parental payments for some excursions and online subscriptions to learning tools such as Reading Eggs have been categorised as "essential student learning" items for which schools cannot compel parents to pay.
School principals have been briefed on the parent payments policy in recent weeks.
They were told of multiple cases in which schools had incorrectly charged families for non-curricular items including padlocks and magazines, events such as sports carnivals, graduations and barbecues, and guest speakers and school nurses.
Julie Podbury, president of the Victorian branch of the Australian Principals Federation, said the policy overlooked the reality that schools rely on parental contributions to make up for inadequate government funding.
She said the union had been inundated with feedback from state school principals concerned the policy would make it harder to cover staffing costs in areas such as IT and student wellbeing, and to pay for equipment in fields such as science and sports.
"No school is going to hit up any family for money they don’t have," Ms Podbury said. "Schools are very empathic when it comes to looking after their families and are deeply aware of the difficult financial circumstances that some families find themselves in."
But Ms Podbury said state schools had always relied on local fundraising and parental fees to deliver a full education.
"We just need parents to understand that if they can afford to support the school financially they must continue to do so, because schools rely on additional funds to meet the funding shortfall," she said.
Victorian schools receive the least government funding per student compared with other states and territories, although an extra $7.2 billion is being added between 2019 and 2023.
Parents who send their children to Victorian government schools pay more in fees and contributions than anywhere else in Australia.
Data from the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority shows government schools in Victoria received $431.73 million from fees and parental contributions in 2018, the most recent year reported, equating to $697 per student.
This was well above the national average of $490 per student.
Victorian Education Minister James Merlino said the parent payment guidelines "were recently refreshed to give schools and families further clarity, consistency and transparency".
"There has been no change to the policy," he said.
Gail McHardy, executive officer of Parents Victoria, said many parents who previously had the income to contribute to schools’ fundraising efforts were in a worse financial position this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We support principals being able to deliver a quality service but they need to be very mindful that you don’t transfer the responsibility onto the community when the community is already hurting," Ms McHardy said.
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