Earlier this month the Australian government revealed a $1.5 billion drought relief fund.
Some of this money will be used to to expand the previously-existing drought communities program, as well as set up a discretionary fund to support areas in need as needed.
$10 million is also being set aside for drought relief for schools in impacted areas. This would be great if it wasn’t only being given to private schools.
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Minister for Education Dan Tehan compared the fund to the assistance the the government provided flood impacted schools in Queensland earlier this year. The fund helped to provide textbooks, clothing, counselling and other types of assistance.
“…so what we’re announcing today is using the similar approach that we had for the Queensland floods. $10 million for schools that are impacted by drought so that they can provide relief to families,” said Mr Tehan during a press conference on November 7.
Mr Tehan also pointed to the assistance that the fund was able to give to parents.
“…what schools were able to do also was able to point them towards counselling to make sure that they were getting the assistance that they needed. And in many cases that the students needed, because, as the PM mentioned, the impact on parents of drought and worrying whether they’ll… be able to continue to afford to send their children to school is a big one. But also the impact on students watching what their parents go through, seeing the toil, seeing the hardship that they have to deal with. We have to be able to provide the assistance as well.”
What the minister failed to mention was that public schools wouldn’t be eligible to apply for drought relief funding.
But it is specified on the Department of Education’s website. In fact, the page is titled ‘2019/20 Drought Relief – funding for non-government schools’.
“Many rural towns are doing it tough as a result of the drought and many schools have introduced fee relief and/or curtailed their operations to cope with this drastic situation,” says the website.
“Establishing a $10 million drought relief funding program will provide a supplementary financial source for schools that are directly impacted by the ongoing drought or are delivering education to a high proportion of students from drought-affected communities.”
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Correna Haythorpe, the Australian Education Union’s president, seems to disagree with this definition of “high proportion”.
“We have thousands of government schools ” more than 80% of students in rural and remote areas are in public schools and they are deeply impacted by drought,” she said to The Guardian.
Haythorpe went on to call the decision “elitist” and “exclusive” and stated that it “relied on the stereotype that farmers all send their kids to boarding and private schools.”
Shadow Minister For Education and Training Tanya Plibersek has also raised the question of help for public schools.
“[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,” said the minister in an email to Gizmodo Australia.
“Public schools students and parents are struggling through this terrible drought too. What is Scott Morrison going to do to help them?”
While nobody is saying that non-government schools shouldn’t be helped, it’s disheartening to see the coalition prioritise paying out bloated private school fees instead of aiding as many impacted students and parents as possible, regardless of their socioeconomic status.
While farmers are being offered interest-free loans to get them through hardships, it sure is fascinating to see some of the country’s elite being offered free aid.
It’s a shame that drought relief comes with caveats, as opposed to being a potential option to any family who needs it.
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