17 August 2022

A $2 million fund will help families struggling to make education ends meet, but will it be enough?

| Lottie Twyford
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Minister for Education Yvette Berry with a group of Majura Primary School students enjoying a music lesson.

Minister for Education Yvette Berry with a group of Majura Primary School students enjoying a music lesson. Photo: ACT Government.

A $2 million fund will mean families struggling to make ends meet can access one-off payments of up to $750 for each of their children enrolled at an ACT public school.

But without any projections available regarding how many families may need the support, the government can’t promise there’s enough money available.

The once-a-year payments can be used for anything education-related, whether that’s purchasing uniforms and school shoes or paying for extracurricular activities like music and sports activities and equipment.

According to the government, the Future of Education Equity Fund delivers on a 2020 election commitment to ensure every child in Canberra can access high-quality education.

READ MORE ‘Critical’ workplace safety, infrastructure issues ongoing in ACT public schools, linked to teaching quality

Minister for Education Yvette Berry said education is a great equaliser as long as it can be fairly accessed.

“We know that some students come to school and they are not able to learn, and not prepared to learn because they have an unequal chance due to their family circumstances,” she said.

Applications for the fund are open now until 30 September, with $400 payments available for pre-schoolers, $500 for primary school students and $750 for high school and college students.

Every student can access one payment per year and eligibility criteria will need to be met, including proof of low income or financial stress, which can be demonstrated with a Centrelink pension or Healthcare card.

Ms Berry said there may be a range of reasons someone might need to access the support, and it could be related to an unexpected payment cropping up.

She encouraged families to talk to someone they trusted at the school if they needed help.

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Despite the government allocating $2 million a year across the next four years, they don’t yet know how many families will need it or whether that will be enough money.

“Our schools know our families best. They know how many families may need support and how many families they have previously provided support to,” Ms Berry said.

“We will have to see if more funding is required.”

The Education Minister was also unable to provide data on how many families had accessed previous support payments.

According to the ACT Education Directorate, 1024 Year 7 to 10 students accessed a previous fund for high school students only in 2021.

ACT Parents & Citizens Executive Officer Veronica Elliott

ACT Parents & Citizens Executive Officer Veronica Elliott wasn’t sure what demand would be like for the scheme. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

ACT Parents & Citizens Executive Officer Veronica Elliott said the scheme is welcome as cost-of-living pressures continue to build for many families.

“Some families are really struggling. The last few years have been tough and this scheme provides assistance where it is most needed.

“For those families who need it, it will be a welcome relief. It will help with uniforms, technology, and all the things children need to learn and participate in school life.”

READ ALSO ‘Critical’ workplace safety, infrastructure issues ongoing in ACT public schools, linked to teaching quality

Ms Elliot said it was true that many schools already supported families with uniforms and equipment for sports and music on an informal basis.

But she welcomed the fact the new scheme could be applied for online, thereby removing the need for families to have a “difficult conversation” with their child’s school.

“Parents can often feel ashamed to step forward and put their hand up and admit they are struggling.”

Previously, the ACT Government provided free Chromebooks to public school students. A pilot program to provide free lunches for students had its start disrupted by the pandemic.

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I’m amazed this story isn’t receiving more positive or negative comments. Personally I think it’s putting the money to help struggling school students into the wrong pocket. I really hope the parents use the money to help their kids education, not for frivolous expenditure.

Surely this money would be better thrown at those struggling schools with more than the average share of low income students.

I’m not convinced extra one off money for the parents, will lead to better educational outcomes for their kids.

Ms Berry seems unable to admit that some public schools across the ACT are struggling and that select schools need additional dedicated resources. It’s sad when political reasons of avoidance, trump improving the education of struggling school-kids.

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