More digital access, greater support for disadvantaged students, and a boost to the numbers of youth and social workers are part of a $51 million commitment to school equity programs in tomorrow’s ACT Budget.
The funding over the next fours years will include more than $21 million to ensure all Year 7 to 12 students have access to a Chromebook, including an additional $2.8 million to provide internet access to any secondary school student who needs it and fund a new e-safety program.
A total of $12.5 million will go to the 10-year plan for early childhood education called Set Up For Success.
The funds will support providers and services that cater for three-year-old children experiencing vulnerability or disadvantage, and increase the number of scholarships for an early childhood teacher degree to 12.
A new $11.5 million Future of Education Equity Fund will replace the high school bursary scheme, with the government saying it will reach an estimated five times as many students.
An additional 25 youth and social workers will be employed at a cost of $7.4 million to provide early intervention and support for students and their families.
There is also $1.5 million for a two-year trial to provide 1,500 vulnerable students with access to free breakfast and lunch three days a week throughout the school year.
Funding of $450,000 has been set aside over the next two years to review how public schools deliver inclusive education, working with young people with a disability, their families, and the broader community.
$445,000 will go to providing ongoing free and confidential legal advice to public college students as the number of cases of domestic and family violence increase during the pandemic.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the package will support a range of new and renewed policy initiatives to improve access, equity and inclusion for all students.
“As we continue to meet the challenges of this pandemic, the ACT Government has prioritised spending on the future of our children and young people to ensure they develop the knowledge and skills to operate in our rapidly changing world,” he said.
Education Minister Yvette Berry said the government had a responsibility to ensure that every young person has access to a great education, taking into account and responding to their circumstances and unique needs.
“As we move into the next phase of our 10-year Future of Education strategy, the government has significantly increased funding to make education more inclusive, give students more of a say in their learning, support a workforce of the future and give young people the best possible start in life,” she said.
The ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Associations – the peak body for Canberra’s public school parents – welcomed the targeted funding for school staff and programs.
Council President Alison Elliott said it was pleasing to see some of the funding announcements delivering on promises made to parents prior to last year’s election, such as the funding for 25 more youth and social workers.
“Schools are a key place for support to be offered to students and families, but parents regularly report difficulty accessing support due to limited staff,” she said.
“These additional youth and social worker positions are much needed. These specialist staff can make all the difference to students struggling to engage, or with mental health challenges.”
Ms Elliott also welcomed the significant expenditure on electronic devices for students.
“Certainly the importance of these devices being available to everyone has been highlighted in recent months with the rapid switch to remote learning,” she said.
“With more time spent online, parents are more worried about eSafety, so it is also good to see the government committing to a program to address this.”
The council looked forward to future announcements on much needed public school infrastructure spending to cater for growing student numbers and fund upgrades of aging school buildings.