In the 1990s surveys by the charities, the Smith Family and the Brotherhood of St Laurence, found that poor Australian families were finding it difficult to afford textbooks, school camps and excursions, fees and levies, and even the cost of computer disks. Some were missing meals to be able to pay for school costs.
Increasing numbers of public schools began charging fees and levies, overturning the former Australian ideal of “free, compulsory and secular education”. In some cases extra teaching positions or building works were funded from fees and levies. Schools also began charging for various costs that had not been charged for before, including course materials, textbooks, computer and library access, and sporting equipment. Fees were even charged in some cases for doing elective subjects such as computer science, technical drawing and languages, so that children from poorer families were excluded from these subjects. In 2005 parents in NSW contributed over $400 million to public schools in fees and donations.
Whereas once parental donations to schools were for the extras – special projects, landscaping, additional sports equipment, these voluntary donations are not only increasingly necessary to the basic running of schools but there is more coercion to pay them. This coercion can include the withholding of reports, textbooks, school diaries and educational materials, and preventing students from accessing libraries and attending graduation ceremonies and other school functions.
In order to raise money for essential educational resources such as computers, software, building extensions, libraries and curriculum materials, schools are forced to run food drives, raffles, dances, fetes and fun runs, as well as hiring out facilities. Parents in NSW “are also putting in thousands of hours of voluntary labour to clean toilets, maintain gardens and repair playground equipment”.
In NSW the state government has refused to replace unflued heaters in schools, despite the health risks associated with them (in particular respiratory illnesses) because of the cost, an estimated $300 million: "The analysis predicted up to 6464 episodes of wheezing could be prevented each year if unflued gas heaters were replaced. However, it would cost $1681 to avoid just one day of wheezing."
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