Hard on the heels of the expense of Christmas and holidays comes the start of the school year; uniforms, stationery and school fees. Education in state schools is supposedly free, but these expenses, along with extra school activities are the responsibility of parents. School fees are a contentious issue. State schools cannot charge fees, but often insist that parents pay a ‘donation’ to cover the government funding shortfall. This donation is voluntary, and you should not be made to feel you have to pay it. State integrated schools, which own school buildings and land, can charge an attendance fee to help cover property costs. Private schools receive limited government funding and therefore rely on substantial fees to cover costs.
While school-related expenses are significant, they are not unexpected. The key to managing these expenses is to plan ahead to ensure the required funds are available. Some avenues of financial assistance are available and if it is a real struggle to find the money, check with the school principal. There may be ways to spread the cost over a period of time, to cut down the amount of stationery or uniform items specified, or to apply to charitable organisations. JR McKenzie Youth Education Fund provides funding for uniforms, stationery and other costs to families suffering hardship. This fund is administered through Rotary. Max e Grants, a joint project between OfficeMax and Barnados offers assistance to schools who can then distribute funds to disadvantaged children. Work and Income offer help with out of school childcare costs (OSCAR) and financial support through their Recoverable Assistance Programme, although an income and asset test is applied to determine eligibility. Budget advice is also available from the Family Budgeting Service to help get through difficult financial times. There is no need for children to miss out.