Kindergarten students sitting on the floor

The cost of a ‘free’ education Children Young People and Families

The cost of a ‘free’ education

ANALYSIS

If you send your kids to a government school they get a free education. This is the promise of intergenerational fairness on which our egalitarian ideals rest, right?

Not quite.

Parents with kids in government schools pay, on average per child per year, $444 in school fees, $641 in camps and sporting equipment, $525 on electronic devices and $473 on uniforms and textbooks.

That’s because Victorian state schools aren’t funded for these essentials. So schools have to put pressure on parents to pay for them, at risk of their kids not being able to fully participate.

With rising cost-of-living pressures, this makes for a yearly whammy of financial stress that can be difficult even for relatively secure Victorian families to cover.

And it makes for some downright heartbreaking situations for Victorians who are struggling.

Like Radha*, who’s a single parent with 10 kids. Her income barely covers rent, bills, petrol and food for her family.

With all this year’s extra school costs, Radha had already fallen behind on her rent for the first time in her life.

Then her family had another massive shock: one of her relatives couldn’t care for her six children, and these kids have been placed in Radha’s care for at least a year.

Radha has taken the kids in and knows she’s done the right thing, but they all urgently need to start attending school and none of them have uniforms or textbooks, let alone expensive devices.

this makes for a yearly whammy of financial stress that can be difficult even for relatively secure Victorian families to cover

Radha’s story come to us from a community organisation, Community Information & Support Victoria, that’s trying to help her, and it’s an extreme situation but not an uncommon one. Another community organisation, Good Shepherd, has had over 900 requests for assistance with education costs this past financial year.

It can’t fall to individual families or even the community sector to cover the shortfall left by inadequate funding of government schools. Kids who can’t afford the right uniforms, textbooks and other school essentials are more likely to be bullied and to disengage from education or drop out entirely.

The start of the school year should be a time of excitement and anticipation, not financial hardship that reverberates through the rest of the year.

The Victorian Government should fully fund state schools by making uniforms, textbooks, digital devices and VET costs an essential part of the standard curriculum. These items would then be funded for each student.

Because Radha’s kids, and all kids, deserve nothing less.

*Name has been changed.