Parent payments have become essential to the provision of free instruction in government schools. In 2013–14, Victorian government schools received
$626 million from parents and other locally generated funds.
While schools are autonomous and responsible for managing their own parent payment practices, the Department of Education and Training (DET) is responsible for supporting and guiding them. DET provides policy and guidance material designed to assist schools in achieving compliance and better practice but parts are confusing and many schools are not following them.
Under the devolved school model, there is a need for sound governance arrangements. However, DET does not oversee school compliance with the law and policy and has no oversight on what items and how much schools charge parents. Schools are consequently charging parents for items that should be free.
School principals point to the inadequacy of school funding as the cause of rising parent payments. DET does not know how much it costs to run a school and its funding model distributes money based on relative need, rather than actual need. DET is therefore poorly positioned to shape government funding decisions.
The Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) today released the Additional School Costs for Families report, focusing on parent contributions and school funding.
The report evaluates whether the Department and government schools are managing parent education costs economically, efficiently and in accordance with legislation and policies.
The report found that parents are being charged for items and activities that should be free and that schools do not sufficiently itemise parent payments, leading to uncertainty among parents about what they are expected to pay for and what are voluntary contributions.
The Auditor-General has made a number of recommendations, all of which the Department has accepted.
To address two key recommendations, the Minister for Education has asked us to hold an independent review into parent payments. We are currently in the process of securing an independent expert to lead this review.
Separately to this review, the Department will address VAGO’s remaining recommendations through a range of actions. These can be found in Appendix B of the report.
Our ability to deliver on the recommendations relies on us working together.
Principals will be critical to our review of parent payments and will lead the implementation of policy changes in schools.
We know that school-based policies will need to be finalised ahead of the 2016 school year, which is why we intend to complete our review of the Department’s Parent Payment Policy in Term 3.
In the meantime, please work with your schools council to manage and review your existing policy in line with the Department’s policy.
Fundamentally, this review aims to ensure parents understand what they have been asked to pay and have confidence that their contributions directly benefit their children.
A stronger, clearer and fairer approach to parent payments will also ensure schools consistently offer inclusive programs open to all students. All children should have access to a high quality education experience regardless of their parents’ ability to pay.
To help you explain this to your parent community, we have prepared some suggested copy for your website or newsletter.
We will continue to keep you updated as we progress this important work.
Today's Age reported
Today's Age reported
Parents are being asked to stump up an average of $558 a child in fees and levies as state schools struggle to make ends meet.
State schools are generating more than $620 million themselves but the Education Department has failed to properly oversee the school funding system, Victoria's financial watchdog has found.
In a report into the additional cost of state education, Victoria's Auditor-General John Doyle said parents paid $310 million ($558 per student), a rise of $70 million in family contributions to school running costs since 2009.
He said parents were also expected to pay for uniforms, sports clothes and other essential items "adding significantly" to the cost of educating a child.
Mr Doyle said it was "most concerning" that schools independently raised $626 million in the last financial year, 2013/14, compared to $771 million from the Education Department in the same period.
He criticised the "lack of transparency surrounding parent payments and school funding" and noted that the department had failed to ensure it had the "checks and balances in place" to supervise school practices.
"Over time, parent payments have evolved from being used to support free instruction to being essential to its provision," he said.
The report found more than 80 per cent of school funds were "tied up" in teacher salaries.
"This means that despite having the autonomy to make localised decisions about how best to run their school, they receive limited direct funding to help them do so."
Mr Doyle has recommended that the department regularly reviews parent payment policies and practices and intervenes in case of a breach.
Mr Doyle said the department should improve its basis for estimating the funds required to meet efficient school costs.
Education Minister James Merlino said parent payments "skyrocketed" under the former government. He has requested the department conduct an independent review of parent payment policies, including how they are monitored.
Australian Education Union Victorian branch president Meredith Peace said it was unfair that education costs were being passed on to parents.
"If you start placing financial burdens onto parents for programs and costs that should be provided by the government we will have growing inequity in our system. Some students are missing out," she said.
"Victorian students are the lowest funded in the country. Governments do not invest enough in education and our kids."
The Education Maintenance Allowance was abolished by the former state government, with more than 200,000 Victorian students from low-income families missing out on the payment for the first time this year. The payment provided students with up to $300 to help cover school costs including books, uniforms, excursions and computers.
Emma King, the CEO of the Victorian Council of Social Services, said increasing school costs meant some students were unable to participate in education.
"We know if kids can't afford the books or look different because they don't have the uniform we know they disengage from school. There are a growing number of students who are disengaging from year 7."
She said some parents were choosing between whether they paid for school costs or put food on the table.
In addition to the voluntary contributions, parents were also being asked to pay for increasingly expensive school books, uniforms and technology
We will be hearing more about this in the future. DET is completely out of touch in many areas ( Remember the Auditor General's report last year into the system's failures regarding the opportunities for rural students in state schools- I certainly haven't!) I hope the new government takes on board the Auditor General's recommendations and galvanises DET to act.
It should be noted that Glen Park has no fund raising and asks for no fees and has not done so for the last 15 years.