Education Department figures show that while the rate of payment for voluntary contributions is increasing, on average only 60% of parents are paying the $60 fee for primary school students, or $235 fee for high school students. Thirty-three schools report a collection rate below 25 percent, and some schools in the Northern Valleys region sit at just above 30%. It’s worth asking the question: why the low rate of participation?
Certainly, some parents do not have the capacity to pay and that is why the fees are voluntary. However, I do find it hard to fathom that nearly two-thirds of a classroom have not paid their fees because they are unable to. There would easily be half the class enrolled in extra-curricular activities that require payments in excess of a hundred dollars per term, plus the costumes, uniforms, special footwear, and associated costs with travelling to the activity that parents seem to be able to manage. Australian Scholarships Group estimates that this year parents will spend between $1404-$1644 for primary students on extra-curricular activities.
And I know fees are not the only costs associated with the start of the school year. However, if you consider the consumable cost of stationery, voluntary school fees, a P&C family contribution, and the odd excursion you are getting a full year of public education for around $300 (varies from school to school). Just $7.50 a week for your child to be educated and cared for.
Is the apathy towards paying school fees indicative of the attitude towards the education sector in general? Has education become so devalued that people refuse to pay for it? Do they feel that because they are already paying taxes, they have made their contribution? Or is it simply a case of forgetting to pay, and unlike when you “forget” to pay your Telstra bill, there is no inconvenient ramification such as the service being disconnected to motivate you to remember?
You may be surprised to learn that some teachers spend up to $2000 a year of their own money providing school supplies. The Australian Education Union’s State of Our Schools survey for 2018 found that 93 per cent of teachers use their own money to purchase supplies for their school or students, with 45 per cent spending under $500 per year and 25 per cent spending more than $1000 a year. There are not many professions where it is just accepted that you will need to contribute your own money to be able to perform your job properly! Making those lovely Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gifts, and the cute homemade Christmas decorations that we cherish does not come cheap for a class of 25 children.
While the government’s education funding model could certainly do with an overhaul, there is no doubting the value of your voluntary contribution. For a primary school of 500 students with only 30% of them paying their fees, it means the school receives $9000 compared to the $30,000 they would receive with 100% of parents paying the fees. Imagine what could be funded with that extra cash injection. Your contribution does matter and will have direct effect on your child’s experience at school. Something to consider heading in to the new school year!