Kindergarten students sitting on the floor

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Soaring back-to-school costs highlight education funding shortfalls

As parents spend big for the new academic year, Victoria’s peak social advocacy body is warning high back-to-school costs are being driven by the underfunding of government schools.

The cost of sending your child to a so-called “free” Victorian government school is now between $800 and a whopping $4,500 each year.

“This is a massive cost burden on families and it comes at the worst possible time, straight after Christmas,” Victorian Council of Social Service CEO Emma King said.

Not all families can cover the costs alone. A survey of VCOSS members reveals the main items families need help with are books, fees, uniforms and computer devices.

Last year alone, community agency State Schools Relief distributed 12,000 pairs of socks, 7,000 textbooks, 200 iPads, 700 school bags and 50,000 t-shirts to families who couldn’t afford them.

Changes in recent years with many schools requiring monogrammed uniforms, expensive blazers and BYO digital devices are increasing the burden on families. These expenses are on top of the cost of transport to get kids to school, which itself can run into the hundreds of dollars.

Ms King said public schools are meant to be funded to such a level that so-called “voluntary” parent payments and hidden fees aren’t necessary.

“Parents shouldn’t be relied on to prop-up our public schools,” she said.

“It’s the government’s job to make sure schools are funded to deliver a standard education free of charge.”

“Underfunding not only puts an unfair cost burden on families, it makes it harder for kids to fully participate in school.”

“Every child deserves a high quality education. It shouldn’t matter where they live or how much their parents earn.”

Ms King said the Victorian Government should be applauded for recently allocating more money to help kids attend school camps, sporting activities and excursions. But she said a bigger effort and more funding are still needed.

VCOSS is recommending the Victorian Government urgently:

  1. INCREASE core public school funding to such a level that all hidden fees and payments can be abolished.
  2. FOLLOW NSW’s lead and make public transport free for all students travelling to and from school.
  3. ESTABLISH a subsidy scheme to help struggling families pay for extracurricular sport or recreation activates.

Ms King said any families struggling with back to school costs should speak to directly with their school, State School Relief (on 8769 8400) or the National Debt Helpline (on 1800 007 007).