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Drought Fund: Public Schools Missed Out Again!

By Juliana Knijnik

On the 7th of November, Hon Dan Tehan MP, the Minister of Education, announced that the government will be giving $10 million additional funding to schools through the Special Circumstances Fund to help with recent drought conditions. This is such good news right? As many schools, especially in rural areas, are struggling due to the drought, right? However there is a catch, only non-government schools will have access to this fund, public schools won’t even see a cent of this money.

It doesn’t seem to be enough that non-government schools, paradoxically, receive more funding from the government than public schools i.e. government schools. Now, the government is helping private schools in this time of crisis but refusing to help public schools. Sure, some private schools might need this money but so do public schools. And to top it off, at least 80% of students in rural areas attend public schools! Many public schools and parents are struggling through this drought and what is the government doing to help them? Nothing.

In 2017, the Australian Government commissioned an Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education, which announced the following results seen in both tables below;

So as shown, so many more students living in regional, remote and very remote locations attend government schools than non-government schools. And furthermore, there are so many more government schools than non-government schools in regional, remote and very remote locations. So why is it that non-government schools, that are less in number and have significantly fewer students, are receiving $10 million worth of funding to help during recent drought conditions? While the schools that are greater in number, have so many more students, aren’t receiving a single bit of this fund.

The government claims that the Fund is meant to help parents that are struggling due to the drought and so are unable to pay these private school fees. However, public schools are free, meaning there are no fees that need to be paid to attend them. It is the parents choice to send their children to private schools (and therefore pay these extra fees) instead of public ones. The government has argued that private schools need the fund as they require additional support staff to assist students who have missed school or school counsellors to help children with drought-related issues that they are facing. But don’t public school students deserve counsellors and support staff too? Especially since it’s been made clear that public schools have so many more students.

In fact, many public schools in rural areas are struggling because of the lack of funding, some even on the verge of shutting down or have already shut down. The drought has also negatively impacted many farms, so a large number of teenagers and kids are now staying at home to help, working long hours so that their farms can survive. Therefore they miss days off school and fall behind, but public schools cannot afford to help these students since they’re already lacking in resources and apparently only private schools require “additional support staff”.

Countless people are unhappy with the fund, calling it elitist and unfair. The President of the Australian Education Union, Correna Haythorpe slammed the government and the fund in an interview with the Guardian calling it “another slush fund for private schools”. She also said that “To privilege one sector over another is to further entrench a level of inequality. If you recognise there is a genuine need, surely you would deliver funding to all sectors [and] not make the package elitist and exclusive?”

Tanya Plisbersek, the Shadow Minister For Education and Training told Gizmodo Australia “[It’s] terrific that schools will get some extra help during the drought, but what about public schools? Public schools teach around two in three Aussie kids, Public school students and parents are struggling through this terrible drought too. What is Scott Morrison going to do to help them?”

Tanya could not have phrased it better. It’s been made clear what our government is doing to support these non-government schools, that are both fewer and have less students. But what about our government schools, that rely on our government to function, and rely on their aid in times of crisis. What’s going to happen to the numerous public schools, with numerous students attending them, if they so obviously cannot rely on our government in this time of need?

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Woke magazine.


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