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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1996 Week 4 Hansard (18 April) . . Page.. 1042 ..

Report on Inquiry into Voluntary Parent Contribution Scheme

Debate resumed from 29 February 1966, on motion by Ms Follett:

That the report be noted.

MR STEFANIAK (Minister for Education and Training) (10.55): Mr Speaker, as members will remember, I tabled the Government's response to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts report on the voluntary parent contribution scheme in the ACT school system in this Assembly on Thursday, 28 March this year. My thanks go to the committee for its inquiry into this matter. While over 98 per cent of all funding for government schools is provided by way of appropriation and grants, voluntary parent contributions, in both financial and non-financial terms, play a very significant part in the life of a school.

In financial terms, some $3m is raised annually among ACT government schools from voluntary contributions and fundraising. This is a very important source of discretionary funds to supplement the funds schools receive by appropriation. It is pleasing to see - it was perhaps not unexpected - that the vast majority of school submissions received by the committee supported the parental contribution scheme and wanted it to continue. It is worthy of note that parent contributions to our school system have been around for a very long time. I can recall two from my school days at Narrabundah. One was a general levy and one was a subject contribution. The general levy was for things like textbooks. I can remember my parents paying about $16 in about 1967, just after decimal currency came in. The other one was a subject levy. I was doing metalwork at the time, and I can recall my parents having to pay - or maybe I had to pay it from pocket-money - about [sterling]3 for my metalwork. All I can remember producing that year - I was not a terribly good metalwork student - was a little sugar scoop, which I found out later, when I looked in some shops, cost considerably less than [sterling]3. That goes to show that contributions and subject levies, which are talked about in the report, have been around for a long time.

Mr Speaker, the committee has drawn attention to the voluntary nature of these contributions. I want to take this opportunity to emphasise that voluntary contributions, and I include subject levies in this category, are just that - voluntary. If parents choose not to make that contribution, then no student should be discriminated against as a consequence. This is a fundamental premise which all previous governments have stood by and one which we will reinforce at every opportunity. The Council of Parents and Citizens Associations has written to me recently citing examples of students being denied access to courses because of non-payment of subject levies. Some school handbooks omit to mention that subject levies are voluntary, and that concerns me. I have asked the department to investigate and to take steps to rectify that situation. But, Mr Speaker, we do encourage parents to make these contributions if they can. There is a long tradition of such contributions in government schools, and they represent a source of discretionary funding and a degree of flexibility which schools value.

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