Gap between BSE and other Bendigo schools could continue to widen, Lisa Chesters fears

Shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek meets students at Bendigo Senior Secondary College on Tuesday. Picture: GLENN DANIELS
Shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek meets students at Bendigo Senior Secondary College on Tuesday. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

Related: Public school fees differ

THE growing gap in voluntary school fees between Bendigo South East College and the city’s three other secondary colleges could continue to widen without a needs-based funding model, Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters fears.

The stoush over school funding arrived in Bendigo on Tuesday when shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek visited Bendigo Senior Secondary College.

She claimed the school would be left $3.5 million worse off over two years without the Gonski model – figures the federal government continues to dispute.

The Commonwealth argues it will instead tie funding to evidence-based school improvements.

But Ms Plibersek said the upcoming budget would lay bare the “cuts” to schools.

“Will the May budget contain a better funding arrangement for our schools? Or are they going to persist with cuts that will impact our schools and communities like this?” she said.

Labor estimated $36 million would be cut from schools in the electorate of Bendigo.

Education tracking website MySchool found parents at Bendigo South East College could pay more than $1100 to enrol their students, including voluntary payments for extra courses. The figure had almost doubled since 2009.

Parents at Weeroona, Eaglehawk and Crusoe colleges pay less than $500.

Ms Chesters said the lack of a needs-based model could force these schools to make tough decisions to increase their income.

“My fear is that, with these funding cuts kicking in next year, schools will look to increase revenue and one of the only ways they can do that is by charging parents more for students to go to their schools,” she said.

BSE is located in one of Bendigo’s more affluent areas, and attracts students from Strathfieldsaye, Strathdale and Kennington.

Ms Chesters said school boards could raise fees if they deemed parents had the capacity to pay.

“Talk to the principals of Eaglehawk, Crusoe and Weeroona, they will tell you they simply can’t charge their families extra fees,” she said.

“We do have an east-west divide in this town. You just need to look at property prices, income levels, families’ capacity to pay in suburbs like Strathfieldsaye and Strathdale.

“Schools will always have a voluntary payment, and it is up to the state education department to work with schools to make sure that our public education is as affordable and close to free as possible.

“The costs of education today - the cost shifting that goes on - more and more of it is being put back onto the school and the parent because you’ve got governments like the federal government not paying their fair share.”