On Wednesday, South Brisbane MP Amy MacMahon announced the Greens will introduce a Private Member’s Bill, Helping Families with School Costs, next week. Dr MacMahon said the Bill will address underfunding in state schools and alleviate financial burdens on families. 

“At a time when people are feeling the cost-of-living crunch, Queensland families are paying, on average, more than $390 in state school fees and many thousands more for essentials such as uniforms, stationery or digital technology, or activities outside the core curriculum, such as manual arts, interschool sport, or music programs,” Dr MacMahon said.

Dr. MacMahon said under the Bill, Queensland families should expect to save about $2000 per year on out-of-pocket school-related expenses per child.

Key Items in the Bill:

1.   Funding Obligation: The Bill will require the relevant Minister to fund Queensland state schools to 100 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS). The SRS is a national framework that calculates the minimum funding needed to meet students’ educational needs.

2.   Free Education Services: The Bill also requires state schools to provide students with various services free of charge, including academic, cultural, and sporting programs beyond the basic curriculum, school excursions and camps, essential resources like textbooks and stationery, and school uniforms. These provisions aim to provide opportunities to students comparable to private schools and address disparities in educational advantage. The estimated annual cost for these services is $1.2 billion.

Dr McMahon said the Greens have surveyed over 700 families to assess the impacts of out-of-pocket school expenses.

“Many of them were saying to us, “Our schools are underfunded. We’re struggling with these costs for our kids.” And a lot of families were giving us feedback about going into debt or having to get grants to cover these basic costs.” 

“As school heads back for another term this week, parents are having to choose between buying their child a new uniform or paying their electricity bill. Parents will skip meals just so their kids can get the stationery they need.,” Dr MacMahon said.

The Australian Education Union estimates the Queensland Government underfunds state schools by nearly $1.7 billion in 2023, Dr MacMahon said.

“There is no excuse for not fully funding Queensland State Schools, right now. We are leaving kids behind because schools don’t have the resources that they need.”

Dr MacMahon says Queensland falls behind schools in every other state and territory except the NT. She argues it would cost the Queensland Government $1.2 billion annually to scrap school fees and out-of-pocket expenses.

“Since the Gonski review over a decade ago, state governments are expected to fund 80 per cent of minimum funding requirements for public school students, with the Federal Government funding the other 20 per cent.”

“However, Queensland Labor continues to only fund 69.26 per cent of those resourcing requirements, causing a nearly $2 billion shortfall in funding every year. Queensland has some of the most underfunded state schools in the country, second only to the Northern Territory.

“They have underfunded schools; they have overseen a massive teacher shortage that continues. And here in this electorate, they’re going to oversee the closure of an active and growing state school. All of this demonstrates that State Labor really doesn’t care about state education.”

The Greens say that the Government could meet these costs by increasing the base rate of mining royalties and taxes on corporations and the big banks.

State Government Response

State Minister for Education Grace Grace told the Westender that the State Government provides free public education in world-class facilities and covers all staffing, administration, and facilities costs. 

“But we know that cost of living is rising and impacting Queensland families in schools, which is why we provide additional support including breakfast clubs, free period products, a textbook allowance, free and subsidised digital devices, free appointments with GPs and other wellbeing professionals in schools, and making transport to and from school cheaper,” the Minister said.

“I’d urge students and families to contact their school in the first instance, as a range of additional support is available for those who need it.”

“More broadly, this year’s budget also featured a record $8.2 billion to ease cost of living pressures, including $550 rebates off electricity bills for all households, up to $1,000 cashback for energy-efficient appliances, and of course free kindy, which will save families up to $4,600 a year.”

“These are the kinds of things already funded by our progressive coal royalties and would be cut under the LNP.” 

The Minister said the Department of Education also provides several allowances and other services to support families who are experiencing financial hardship, and the Government provides extensive support to state school students for out-of-pocket expenses, including:

  • The Textbook and Resource Allowance (up to $317 per annum)
  • Travel funding support through the School Transport Assistance Scheme
  • Access to free and subsidised digital devices for school and home-based learning – more than 30,000 since 2020
  • The Water Safety and Swimming Education Grant pot, which has been quadrupled from $150,000 to $650,000
  • $36 million over four years to install, stock and maintain Dignity Vending machines at all Queensland state schools that want one, providing access to free period products.
  • The $106.7 million Student Wellbeing Package also provides state school students access to mental health support from psychologists or similar wellbeing professionals at no cost to them or their families.

“This year’s budget also included $2.7 million in funding to expand the successful school breakfast program over two years, bringing our total investment to more than $4.5 million by 2025,” the Minister said.

Cover image by Jan Bowman