How Australia’s cost of living crisis is impacting schools and families

How Australia’s cost of living crisis is impacting schools and families

As Australian families, schools, and educators feeling the pinch from the inflation crisis, fresh reports are painting a grim picture of what 2024 is likely to have in store for the financial situation of school communities across Australia.

A recent analysis of back-to-school costs in 2024 by Finder reveals Australian families are spending an average of $2,547 per primary school child per year and $4,793 for each child in secondary school.

The rising cost of education in Australia was further highlighted by The Futurity Investment Group’s Investment in Education Index (2024), which found that even public school parents are coughing up an average of $92,710 a year to educate a single child until the end of Year 12.

“Households are already stretched by spiralling cost of living and interest rate pressures,” Futurity Group Executive CEO, Sam Sondhi said. “With less discretionary money to spend, it’s going to be a challenge for many families to pay for the total cost of education, which has jumped 6% in the past year.”

For schools, Australia’s inflation crisis is continuing to cascade through to the cost of operations, forcing them to adjust their fees to cover rising costs.

“School fees rise in line with the operating costs of each school which has increased as a result of high inflation in the economy and upward pressure on staff wages,” Edstart CEO, Jack Stevens said.

“Rising staff wages are also behind the higher fee increase with many non-government schools offering pay rises to attract and retain teaching staff.”

A separate survey of more than 2,200 families, conducted by The Smith Family, shows 88.3% are worried to some degree about being able to afford all the things their children will need for school in 2024. Of these, three in ten (30%) are very worried and three in ten (31.7%) are somewhat worried.

Around half of the survey respondents (51.2%) think their children are likely to miss out on the digital devices needed for their schoolwork because they won’t be able to afford them. One in six (16.6%) think their children will miss out on internet access for schoolwork.

The Smith Family’s CEO, Doug Taylor said the families that the charity supports “make impossible decisions every day about how to prioritise the limited resources they have”.

“Housing, food, and power are top of the list, but the cost of these essentials have all risen rapidly, meaning educational essentials like uniforms, books, a laptop and the internet are increasingly hard to afford,” Taylor said.

Sadly, many principals, teachers, and support staff are footing the bill for kids’ school items, with a whopping 85% spending an average of $885 a year, with those in NSW, WA and the NT spending more than $1,000 each a year. Based on the national average, the total spending by teachers is $159.5 million a year.

The research, conducted by the Australian Education Union (AEU) in 2023, also found that 72% of public school principals have undertaken fundraising in the last 12 months, with 80% saying fundraising is an important part of their budget. According to the survey, most of the money raised by principals goes towards classroom equipment.

“This spending reflects the dedication and commitment of teachers in public schools who do whatever it takes every day to deliver a high-quality education to children across Australia,” AEU federal president Correna Haythorpe said.

“Unfortunately, it also reflects the failure of the Commonwealth and state and territory governments to fund public schools to their own funding standard.”

Shadow Treasurer Angus Taylor and Shadow Minister for Education Sarah Henderson claim Labor is to blame for Australia’s cost-of-living crisis and are making it harder for families to send their children to school.

“Going back to school has never been more expensive as the cost-of-living puts the clamp on family budgets,” Taylor said.

“At the same time Australian households are being hit with higher energy bills, higher mortgage repayments, and higher grocery prices.”

Pointing to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Monthly CPI Indicator from November 2023, Senator Henderson said struggling Australian families were having to make financial sacrifices in order to meet the average 4.8% increase in education costs.

The data also revealed that school supplies, including textbooks, stationery, and uniforms, are estimated to cost $684 per primary student and $1,132 per secondary student.

“Education is a basic right but under Labor’s cost of living crisis it is getting increasingly unaffordable, and that means that Aussie children are missing out,” Senator Henderson said.

“Every parent across Australia wants to ensure their children receive the education they deserve – yet it is becoming an enormous financial burden. Many families can’t even contemplate going to the movies or going out to dinner because they can no longer make ends meet.”

Senator Henderson said the Albanese Government must come up with a plan to tackle inflation “so that Australians don’t continue to pay the price for Labor’s bad decisions”.

Federal Education Minister Jason Clare hopes that striking a new National School Reform Agreement that funds Australia’s public schools properly will help to both lower education costs and improve student achievement.

“I want public education to be parents' first choice. The best way to do that is making sure that they're fully and fairly funded and that we tie that funding to the things that will make a difference,” Minister Clare told Seven Sunrise.

“That will help with costs, but also make sure that their children get the education that they deserve.”