Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1996 Week 4 Hansard (18 April) . . Page.. 1043..
MR STEFANIAK (continuing):
It is very useful, Mr Speaker, to look at government schooling from the perspective of supply and demand. The demands on school systems continue to grow in response to parent and student expectations and needs, but available government funds do not always grow at the same rate. The funding made available to school boards through parental contributions injects an increased element of choice and flexibility into school communities to enable them to respond quickly to the needs and demands of their own students. The school community makes its own decisions about the relative importance of access to such funds. These decisions are reflected both in the level of contribution the community is prepared to make and in the choices it makes in spending that revenue. This makes parental contributions a source of funding which gives school communities an increased role in the outcomes that can be achieved for their students.
Mr Speaker, the issue is not about situations where some parents are unable to make contributions. Schools have always had confidential arrangements to assist students in these cases. The issue is about the impact felt on a school when parents who have the capacity to pay choose not to make the contributions but expect to receive the benefits made possible by the contributions of others. In such cases, for example, schools may need to consider whether to continue with a relatively expensive elective when it is clear that not all parents are willing to contribute. Where a shortfall in discretionary funding from voluntary contributions occurs, neither the Government nor schools are committed to providing funds to cover that shortfall.
Mr Speaker, I believe that there will always be a tension - and, I want to stress, a healthy tension - between the aspirations of a school community and a government's ability to fully fund these aspirations. This Government has honoured its commitment to maintain education funding over the next three years. The 1994-95 government schooling budget has been adjusted annually by the CPI to provide an additional $20.3m by 1997-98.
Mr Wood: It is going down.
MR STEFANIAK: I would remind Mr Wood, who is interjecting, that this year's budget, the 1995-96 budget, of $206.3m is the highest in the Territory's history. This, Mr Speaker, is in contrast to other ACT government agencies, which are required to make substantial savings to ensure that the Territory lives within its means. Within that funding commitment, per capita grants to schools will be maintained in real terms over the life of this Government. As well, any school operating funds which are devolved to schools for them to manage under school-based management arrangements will also be maintained in real terms.
Mr Speaker, many of the committee's recommendations involve increasing the level of the appropriation funding to schools. Since, as I have already said, we have honoured our commitment to maintain funding, any additional funds for schools must come from within the government schooling program. I have earlier made the point that neither the Government nor schools are under any obligation to fund any shortfall in discretionary funding due to a fall-off in voluntary contributions. Within that framework and within existing resources, the department, in consultation with stakeholders,