Parental payments for some excursions and online subscriptions to learning tools such as Reading Eggs have been categorised as “essential student learning” items for which schools cannot compel parents to pay.
School principals have been briefed on the parent payments policy in recent weeks.
They were told of multiple cases in which schools had incorrectly charged families for non-curricular items including padlocks and magazines, events such as sports carnivals, graduations and barbecues, and guest speakers and school nurses.
Julie Podbury, president of the Victorian branch of the Australian Principals Federation, said the policy overlooked the reality that schools rely on parental contributions to make up for inadequate government funding.
“No school is going to hit up any family for money they dont have,” Ms Podbury said. “Schools are very empathic when it comes to looking after their families and are deeply aware of the difficult financial circumstances that some families find themselves in.”
But Ms Podbury said state schools had always relied on local fundraising and parental fees to deliver a full education.
“We just need parents to understand that if they can afford to support the school financially they must continue to do so, because schools rely on additional funds to meet the funding shortfall,” she said.
Victorian schools receive the least government funding per student compared with other states and territories, although an extra $7.2 billion is being added between 2019 and 2023.
Parents who send their children to Victorian government schools pay more in fees and contributions than anywhere else in Australia.
Data from the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority shows government schools in Victoria received $431.73 million from fees and parental contributions in 2018, the most recent year reported, equating to $697 per student.
This was well above the national average of $490 per student.
Victorian Education Minister James Merlino said the parent payment guidelines “were recently refreshed to give schools and families further clarity, consistency and transparency”.
“There has been no change to the policy,” he said.
Gail McHardy, executive officer of Parents Victoria, said many parents who previously had the income to contribute to schools fundraising efforts were in a worse financial position this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We support principals being able to deliver a quality service but they need to be very mindful that you dont transfer the responsibility onto the community when the community is already hurting,” Ms McHardy said.
Adam Carey is Education Editor. He joined The Age in 2007 and has previously covered state politics, transport, general news, the arts and food.