The word “unprecedented” has probably been overused since March this year. Indulge me as I use it once more in this editorial about next year’s school fees. The COVID-19 crisis has well and truly overshadowed any issues related to school funding in the media. A key matter of importance that has been overshadowed is that this year a new system of calculating Commonwealth funding has been instituted. The new approach, called a Direct Measure of Income (DMI) means we now have a funding system based on parental income rather than the socio-economic status of small statistical areas. This is a most significant change that should stand us in good stead for 2021 and beyond.
So, let’s turn our attention to the 2021 school fees at MECS. I am pleased to report that on Tuesday night the Board made the unprecedented (there it is) decision to not increase school fees in 2021. That is, zero percent (0%) increase on our 2020 school fees.
By comparison we had an increase of 1.8% for 2020, 3.5% for 2019, 3% for 2018, 3.3% for 2017. The Board is very conscious of affordability issues. It realises too that affordability is even more under stress with the very significant economic contraction that has occurred because of the COVID-19 crisis.
The first main reason for being able to have no fee increase is a growing school. Enrolments are very healthy. The second main reason is the change to the DMI method of determining our Commonwealth funding. Our previous Socioeconomic Score (SES) of 97 has decreased to a DMI score of 93 (scores range from 80 to 130). The lower the score the greater the level of Commonwealth funding. This increase enables us to have sufficient an increase in funding to offset any increase in income that usually comes from a school fee increase. Of course the thing we do not know right now is whether our governments will be able to sustain their funding levels to schools in the light of the downturn in the economy.
It is pleasing to have no fee increase as this helps to keep the school affordable. It is also pleasing that we are able to benefit all our families in 2021, not just the most financially vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis period. Of course affordability can become a real challenge at times, especially in the COVID-19 era. The Board does have a process to assist those families who are committed and find themselves in difficult circumstances. When families find it tough going, they can apply for assistance through a confidential fee assistance process that assesses the level of need (contact Craig Goldsmith in the office if you need details on how to apply). Families that have been provided assistance through our current COVID-19 fee relief process will need to be in good communication with us about their ongoing circumstances. And if you believe you may not be able to continue to enrol your children in MECS in 2021 because of your financial circumstances, please talk to us now before making any decisions.
With our zero increase, we remain confident that MECS school fees are affordable compared to the fees and levies of other local independent schools. To make that comparison is not a simple thing to do because comparing fees between schools can be like comparing apples and oranges. Scholarships at other schools; our significant discounts for 2nd and 3rd children at MECS and especially our maximum family fee ceiling (rarely seen in other schools) don’t always lead to easy comparisons. We also work very hard at the ‘one fee, pays all’ approach. We don’t want to advertise one fee rate and then later ‘load on’ a whole lot of ‘hidden extras’ such as subject levies, laptop fees, and camp fees that mean the real actual rate is a lot higher. The only extras you’ll see on a MECS bill are for optional things like Instrumental Music Tuition (if your child learns an instrument) or optional VET courses. And the only other items that may come as additional costs are items such as sports tops, a small number of textbooks in secondary, and if you use the bus – our very economical transport fees.
We know that each family sacrifices a great deal to invest in Christian education for their children. It is not easy. For 2021 we are doing our best to keep the school affordable and sustainable. Thank you for partnering with us.