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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1996 Week 2 Hansard (29 February) . . Page.. 454..

Report on Inquiry into Voluntary Parent Contribution Scheme

Debate resumed from 12 December 1995, on motion by Ms Follett:

That the report be noted.

MS HORODNY (10.44): Mr Speaker, although this report was tabled last year, the issue of funding to education is always on the agenda. At this stage we are coming up to the new budget time. Many of the pressures on schools to raise money through voluntary contributions come from the reductions in real funding to education, so it is quite appropriate that this issue is addressed again.

In nearly every jurisdiction in Australia education is being subjected to a funding squeeze in real terms. More and more, school funding is not adequate for the delivery of basic programs, for texts, arts and crafts, materials, computer equipment and so on. There is an increasing reliance on outside sources of funds to finance these activities. In Victoria, where the proportion of budget outlays going to education dropped from 261/2 per cent in 1989-90 to 18 per cent in 1993-94, schools are increasingly seeking corporate sponsorship and increased contributions from parents.

The issue of voluntary fees goes to the heart of issues surrounding access and equity in our education system. As a result of the financial pressure on schools there is a growing gap between the rich and poor schools. Schools that are unable to tap into the corporate dollar or to raise funds from the local community will become poorer and less well resourced than schools in well-off communities. We already know in the ACT that some schools have a much higher contribution to voluntary fees than other schools, and governments must recognise this and develop appropriate policies to deal with those inequities. Some of these issues have been raised on a number of occasions in relation to devolution of management to schools.

An important point that needs to be made in relation to this issue is that, although we call these fees voluntary, in practice they are not voluntary at all. I believe that voluntary fees, including subject levies, should be strictly voluntary, and this must be backed up by a Government statement in support of the voluntary nature of parental financial contributions, as the report calls for. I believe that voluntary fees, including subject levies, should be truly voluntary, because education should not be seen as a privilege for those who can afford to pay.

Unfortunately, the Government will not or cannot find the extra $4m to $6m that is necessary to replace the voluntary parental contributions. While governments are more and more reluctant to pay for social and community services such as education, the social outcome is often less equitable than having a strong, centrally funded education system. Last night Dr Bob Brown was interviewed and took calls on late night ABC radio, and it was interesting to hear that some of the callers at least said that they would be quite prepared to pay higher taxes if the money went to education.

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