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A good education starts with getting to school

With stagnant wages, lack of affordable housing and rising costs of living, many Victorian families are struggling to make ends meet.

Families with school-aged children continue to face increasing costs to send their kids to the local primary school, with research suggesting that families are paying up to $3,489 per year.

For families facing disadvantage, the cost of transport to get kids to and from school is one out-of-pocket school cost that can become a major barrier to attendance.

In the lead-up to the Victorian state election, we’re calling on all parties to commit to providing a free Myki public transport pass to every school-aged child whose parent or guardian has a health care card.

This would save families between $307 and $594 per year. Not only would it reduce the cost of living for low-income families, it would support the attendance of children and young people at school.

A 2016 report by WEstJustice has found that some families in Melbourne’s west are unable to afford the initial Myki payment. Students will often stay at home and miss out on school until they can afford to buy or top up their card – compromising their learning, engagement, mental health and connection to education.

Other students who are unable to afford the cost of transport are accruing fines as a result of travelling without a valid ticket to get to school.

Racking up fines adds stress in young people’s lives as they worry about how they’ll pay off the debt. Some students have been thrown out of home, or are sleeping on friends’ couches to avoid getting into trouble with their parents.

If we are to give every child the best opportunity to reach their potential, access to and participation in education is critical.

Strong attachment to education promotes good mental health in young people, supporting their emotional and social skills development and promoting a sense of belonging to their school community.

It also helps ensure young people are not excluded from after-school or social activities with their peers, as well as supporting student engagement. This can help to reduce the 10,000 Victorian students that drop out of education and training each year.

Introducing free public transport for school-aged students whose parents or guardians have health care cards would go a long way towards supporting children’s school attendance and learning, and improving school affordability. As all parties contemplate how best to ease families’ cost of living pressures, this step should be a no-brainer.