School funding – it’s the hot-button issue that divides along class and political lines.
The budget is tens of billions of dollars, but have you ever stopped to think about exactly who paid for that sticker your child came home wearing on their lapel?
Chances are a teacher paid for it out of their own pocket.
The 2017 State of our Schools report, based on interviews with about 10,000 teachers and school principals, was published by the Australian Education Union (AEU) on Sunday.
It has revealed teachers are spending hundreds of dollars of their own money to buy textbooks, classroom equipment, sports equipment, and even food, for students.
It was the first time the survey asked teachers about the issue.
Of the more than 7500 teachers who responded, 95 per cent said they had spent money on students out of their own wages.
Two in 10 teachers said they spent more than $500 a year to purchase supplies, and one in 10 put the annual figure at $2000.
Most spent the money on classroom supplies including stationery and library resources or textbooks.
Other items included reward stickers, sports equipment, and food for kids.
Needs-based funding necessary for schools, AEU says
The findings were no surprise to president of the NSW Secondary Principals Council, Chris Presland.
“That’s not at all uncommon – in my experience lots of teachers dip into their own pockets for all sorts of things,” he said.
Mr Presland said a lot of school funding came from governments for specific purposes.
“Teachers would just rather see the big money go to kids’ learning whereas they’re prepared to spend out of their pocket for some of the smaller things,” he said.
“As a society we should be incredibly proud of our teachers and what they do.”
The majority of survey respondents were public school teachers but there were also some teachers who worked at independent schools.
AEU president Correna Haythorpe said schools needed greater levels of needs-based funding.
“Reliance on fundraising and teacher contributions for essentials shows our public schools are not getting the support they need,” Ms Haythorpe said.
“Teachers and principals should be spending all their time on the education of their students, not working out how many barbecues they need to organise and run to pay for a literacy and numeracy program.”
Almost half of schools fund basic maintenance with fundraising
But it is not only teachers pouring their time – estimated at more than 46 hours a week by half of teachers – and money into schools.
It is the parents too.
Eighty-three per cent of schools engage in fundraising, and money raised by parents goes towards classroom equipment, sports and play equipment, IT, and library resources.
Whether schools cater to the rich, the poor, or both, almost half are using the funds raised to pay for basic maintenance on existing school infrastructure.
The need is so great that fundraising has spawned an industry of its own.
Mandy Weidmann calls herself “the fundraising whisperer” and has created a website portal where businesses who cater to school fundraising can advertise their services.
“It’s a whole industry – there are businesses that only cater to the school and club market and who do a really good job of it,” Ms Weidmann said.
“Parents are often relied upon to provide some of the core services, or at the very least a lot of the nice things.
“Ten years ago it was the electronic whiteboard before they became really a core item … now air conditioning is a big flavour of the month because not all schools get air-conditioned by the government.
“Schools shift their budget to the more essential items and leave these holes where parents have to jump in.”
Reliance on fundraising ‘adds to disadvantage’
NSW P&C Federation president Susie Boyd said schools directed fundraising dollars to anything from curtain cleaning to speech pathologists.
But she said there were concerns a heavy reliance on fundraising entrenched disadvantage.
“In some areas they don’t have the money and the community to be able to able to get those fundraising dollars,” Ms Boyd said.
“I’ve got schools that believe a $200 income from an Easter raffle is fantastic – it all depends on what your postcode is, in some circumstances, as to what you’re going to bring in.”
“It’s definitely adding to the disadvantage.”