EDUCATION FUNDING PRIORITIES NEED REVAMP

This was published in the NT Sun on November 13, 2018.

EDUCATION FUNDING PRIORITIES NEED REVAMP

There has been a significant change in the setting of funding priorities for schools during the past ten years.

Prior to the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2008, it was extraordinarily difficult to attract money for school capital works programs. Principals and school councils were often frustrated by the delays in gaining initial approval. Generally works were included in treasury’s forward estimates.

In some cases, approved works remained in abeyance for so long, they were re-announced as new initiatives before gaining final funding approval.

Minor New Works programs for infrastructure projects up to $250,000 were similarly queued for lengthy periods of time.

The GFC consigned this scenario to history. In order to stimulate building and construction, the Federal Government created the Building Education Revolution (BER).
Many billions of dollars were released to state and territory educational systems. ‘Build, build build, like there is no tomorrow’ became the order of the day. Along with all educational authorities, the NT Education Department was overwhelmed with BER money.Funds were allocated for major construction in every Northern Territory school.

A BER downside was the prescription placed on the use of money. Buildings had to be for science laboratories, school libraries, classrooms, assembly halls and physical facilities. When particular schools had higher priorities they were discounted. Timelines attached to the program required projects to be completed and funds expended by specific dates. This meant that building and construction programs had to be undertaken during term time disrupting school programs, in some cases for weeks on end.

Although the BER is now history, there has been a significant shift in funding priorities for NT schools. Compared with pre BER days, it seems that limitations on capital and minor new works funding have been relaxed.

Government tenders in the NT News each Wednesday confirms that money is being allocated for playground equipment, shade structures, irrigation upgrades and other works that were rarely funded in past times.
Previously, it had been up to school communities to fundraise for these ventures.

It is a worry that major funding for schools seems to be based on the fact that projects must support the building, construction, and infrastructure industry. There is a need for funding to recognise and support teaching and learning programs in classrooms. The ‘heart’ of the school is the teaching/learning interface. Buildings and facilities are necessary but should not be prioritised to the detriment of core learning needs.

Funding balance is important. While facilities are necessary, the support of students through classroom programs must not be compromised.

EXPENSIVE EDUCATION CAN ESCALATE FAMILY DEBT

This piece was published in the ‘NT Sun’  a free community paper that is also inserted into the ‘NT News’ every Tuesday.   It was published on February 6 2018.

EXPENSIVE EDUCATION CAN ESCALATE DEBT

There is no such thing as a ‘free’ education. This has always been the case for students enrolled in private schools. However this also applies to parents of children attending government schools. Educational costs rise year on year and no families are exempt.

The average cost of schooling is rising far more quickly than reflected by the Australian cost price index. The NT News (Back -to-school trap Warning to parents racking up debt 24/1/18) confirmed that text books, stationery, shoes, uniforms and laptops are among items set to cost families over 40% more than last year. “For a typical family, that’s $829 per year.” (NT News above).

The article cautions about the dangers of buy-now-pay-later schemes which could add to the debt burdens already confronting families. According to the NT News (above) these instalment plan options are being used by around 30% of parents. A better option might be to save a weekly or monthly instalment so money is there to pay for requisites when this outlay becomes due. This would help families to avoid the stress of suddenly having to find money to cover return to school expenditure.

The issue of school costs for parents is partially defrayed by the NT Government providing back-to-school vouchers worth $150 for each child. These vouchers are sent to the schools where children are enrolled, rather than being given directly to parents. The vouchers can be used to help cover back to school expenses. While they don’t meet all costs, the vouchers go a long way towards reducing the amount owed by parents. In addition, the NT Government supports students with two $100 vouchers (one for semester one and the second for semester two) to help defray sporting costs. Many sports programs are organised by schools and the voucher offset is a saving to parents.

The costs of providing technology for students has added a great deal to family bills. Some schools ask families to purchase laptops or iPads for students. Others offer rental or leasing options. Regardless of the method, the outlay is significant. The NT News article quote suggests that school related technology costs will add an average of $260 to the education bill for each child this year. Maybe voucher assistance to help defray this expense for parents could be considered by the government.

Education is a major cost item. Parents and families might consider building this into a savings programs that can be sourced to meet bills and other school contributions.