More than 200,000 students in Victoria - nearly a quarter of all primary and secondary students in the state - receive the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), which the state government is going to axe at the end of this year.
EMA recipients receive between $150 to $300 to pay for everything from book packs, to uniforms, to school camps.
In some schools in Melbourne but also in the country the EMA payment is a huge benefit to parents and schools. ( I know it was a significant help in rural communities during the drought when rural incomes fell and many families found themselves needing government assistance. ) In the past there has been a high number of Glen Park parents receiving the EMA. Some have handed the money directly to the school ( recent changes had half of it go directly to the school anyway) and some used it to buy uniforms. ( I remember one family used it to buy school shoes every year.)
Many schools use it to support vulnerable and disadvantaged students. Some schools have a high cohort of those students. For example St. Albans PS in Melbourne has almost four out of five children that come to the school are recipients of EMA and need that to help their basic educational needs( The Hockey horror budget will create more of those children)
In other schools the EMA ( which is usually signed over to the school) is used to pay for uniforms, book lists, fees and stationary items.
The EMA is a relatively small part of Victoria's $5.9 billion school budget.But when Victoria signed up to the Gonski reforms last year they decided to remove funding going directly to students and put it into schools based on need.The Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) said that was a big mistake.
"General money flowing into schools is not targeted money going to children who absolutely need it to be able to attend and participate in school," VCOSS CEO Emma King told the ABC last week.
"So there's a really significant issue here, while Gonski might be flowing into schools, that in itself doesn't provide targeted assistance to those who need it." the sad fact is that only a fraction of Gonski funding will eventually find its way into government schools. Glen Park hasn't seen one red cent of it.Victoria's Education Minister Martin Dixon said when Gonski funds start to flow in July the state's neediest schools and students would be much better off.( Hopefully the AEU and VCOSS will be monitoring this)
The Government said even with the EMA cut, schools would have $170 million in additional money to help disadvantaged families.This change doesn't come into effect until the start of next year. Apparently they will be releasing information to schools about the changes this week. But until those questions are answered, parents and principals will remain concerned. It has not been well publicised by the Department since last year ( especially for those who have English as a second language) and it won't be noticed by many families until they actually come up at the beginning of the year and start asking to use their EMA for book lists or to pay fees.