The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a huge financial blow to many Australian families, prompting households to stretch their budgets to meet daily expenses, including those meant for their children’s education.
For many Victorian parents already feeling the pinch, the Department of Education’s recent directive instructing government schools not to press payments for key learning materials offers a reprieve.
State schools have been advised not to pursue parents who cannot afford to pay for essential learning materials, including textbooks, art kits, and stationery, and instead find means to cover for the expenses using their own budgets.
The department also said that parents who already made payments for key materials can get a refund from the schools that charged them.
According to the policy document: “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, e.g. make the item available through the school or provide alternative financial support options.”
The department said school principals have been briefed on the parent payments policy in recent weeks.
However, the directive surprised state school principals who said parental contributions were crucial for them to deliver full education, adding the new policy could force them to cut programs.
In an interview with The Age, Julie Podbury, president of Victoria’s Australian Principals Federation, said the policy “overlooked the reality that schools rely on parental contributions to make up for inadequate government funding.”
She added the directive would make it more difficult for schools to pay for staffing costs in key areas such as IT and student wellbeing, and resources for extracurricular activities such as sports equipment.
“No school is going to hit up any family for money they don’t have,” Podbury told The Age. “Schools are very empathetic when it comes to looking after their families and are deeply aware of the difficult financial circumstances that some families find themselves in.”
“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.