State schools

Victorian public schools banned from pressuring parents to fund most learning

Schools were made aware of the policy last week and said it would take effect from the start of 2022, regardless of any budget plans made by schools or communications they sent to families this year.

“The department will closely monitor the financial impact of the clarified and strengthened policy on all schools and will continue to review funding arrangements,” principals said Sept. 1.

Schools should not prevent a student from accessing essential elements of the program or participating in essential excursions if their parents do not make a voluntary contribution; they must cover the shortfall in their budgets.

Jason Walker, headmaster of Mount Albert Primary in Melbourne’s east, said if fewer parents paid, schools would have a choice between withdrawing some curricula and school materials or plundering funds elsewhere in the budget.

“We use voluntary payments for our instrumental music program, lunch clubs, excursions and camps,” Walker said. “If you have this parent pay policy, where we don’t have the ability to charge on a user-pay basis, I don’t know how schools… are going to be able to provide those opportunities.”

Heath Matheson, a parent and school board member at Mount Beauty Primary School in the north east of the state, said the rural school feared it would have to cancel its Year 6 camp in Canberra next year if the policy resulted in a loss of income.

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“We’re remote, so anything city-based involves bus travel, so the prices add up pretty quickly,” Mr Matheson said. “Something like the Canberra camp is $350 a head and I guess it would have to be increased elsewhere as there is no slack in the budget.”

Ms King said the policy risked drawing more students into the private school system if state schools were to revert to a “simpler” curriculum.

A 2015 report by Victoria’s Auditor General on school payments found they had gone from supporting free education in public schools to being an essential part of its delivery.

The report found that the ministry’s checks and balances on school payments were inadequate. The department told schools this month that this was a key reason for its review of voluntary payment policies.

A Department of Education spokesperson said the guidelines had been updated to give schools and families clarity and transparency about payments. Schools can continue to seek voluntary financial contributions for school materials, educational programs and operating expenses, and invite parents to purchase educational items on a user-pay basis, the spokesperson said.

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