“The new law on voluntary parental contributions reinforces inequality”

All children must be able to participate, because participation now counts later: that is the motto of Leergeld Nederland. This umbrella organization is made up of the 111 local institutions of Leergeld, which operate in 75 percent of all Dutch municipalities. So there is Stichting Leergeld Nijmegen, Stichting Leergeld Amsterdam, and so on. Together they form a national association, with Karin Vercar working in the office in Den Bosch.

“We want to prevent the social exclusion of children from low-income families,” explains Karen. We do this by supporting the parents financially. In this way, we hope to achieve more equality and provide children with good development opportunities.”

What is your relationship to the voluntary contribution of parents?

“Until the new law was passed last year, parents could be compensated for (part of) the voluntary parental contribution via Leergeld. We usually pay this money directly to primary or secondary school. The new law states that children may always participate in activities organized by you school, even if the parents are unable or unwilling to pay.That is why it is no longer necessary for us to pay the parental voluntary contribution.

The costs we pay fall into four categories: education, sport, culture and welfare. Think about money for dance lessons, soccer uniforms, or textbooks. But also a laptop, or a contribution to it. During the Corona period, when children were homeschooled, many families were without a laptop. Sometimes they don’t have an internet connection. We helped with that.”

How do you determine who is eligible?

“The foundations have a tuition fee formula for this. A parent submits an application by phone, email or via the website and fills in the details. A coordinator from the local Leergeldstichting then connects the volunteer with the family. He usually makes a home visit and discusses the (financial) situation. At home we quickly gain insight Akbar: Does the child also need a laptop in addition to a bicycle?And is it likely that the family also qualifies for other accommodations, such as rent or healthcare benefits?The volunteer then points to other agencies.

Each institution has its own allocation and reimbursement policy. The income limit is often around 120-140 percent of the social assistance level, which also depends on the municipality. Previously, most requests were from parents receiving social assistance or from income from work around the level of social assistance. Now we notice that parents who are well above the level of social assistance can no longer make ends meet. This is not surprising with such high inflation.

What exactly has changed since the new voluntary parental contribution law?

Before the 2021-2022 school year, schools can create a placement program for children of non-paying parents. Or children were excluded from participation. This is no longer allowed. In addition to school trips and other trips, this new law also applies to bilingual education and technetium. Not all schools and parents know this.

What is the voluntary parental contribution?

“It varies by school. Sometimes it is 25 euros per child and sometimes 130 euros per child. In secondary schools the amounts are higher than in primary schools.”

It seems that children of non-paying parents should not be excluded from extra educational activities anymore.

“That’s right. The starting point of the law is very nice: it strives for equal opportunities. However, the law actually encourages unequal opportunities. As a result, there are schools that organize trips more often or not at all. Because parents are no longer They pay the contribution and so the schools get a bit more money.This often relates to schools that have less affluent children already at home.They could use a nice outing, because they don’t go on holiday much, for example.

Schools in which a sufficient number of parents pay the voluntary parental contribution will continue to organize outings. Thus, the difference between schools, and therefore children, is widening as a result of the law. Well, it wouldn’t be so bad if the trip to Egypt turned into a trip to France, but it would be bad if the school could no longer organize anything. If even Sinterklaas is at stake.”

Are schools complying with the new law?

“At the end of 2021, we conducted a search among all Leergeld institutions. 73 percent answered. As it turned out, there are still schools that send messages to parents that a child is not allowed to participate if the parents do not pay the voluntary contribution. This is not about hundreds of schools, but about a few schools.

Aren’t those schools breaking the law?

“Yes. But it’s not always out of unwillingness. Some school boards or headmasters weren’t aware of the new law. Or schools have automated systems that haven’t been updated yet and keep sending out reminders or direct deductions for parental contribution. You can imagine that parents who have Little moneyers are shocked by this, especially since they are often already financially stressed, they feel pressured to pay the voluntary parental contribution anyway.

The Education Inspectorate also conducted an investigation into the school evidence for this academic year. What do you say about the voluntary parental contribution? In 70% of the 160 school counsellors studied, it is not clear whether the parental contribution is voluntary, and therefore children should not be excluded if they are not paid. We also see this on a number of websites.

The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science launched a campaign in mid-April 2022 to draw the attention of schools and parents to the new law. So that schools can inform parents to know their rights better.” Information materials can be found here.

What do you think should change? So the law works well?

Schools receive an annual budget from the national government to cover material and personnel costs. This is called a lump sum. The government can increase this amount with a separate cash flow for extra activities, which now falls under the voluntary parental contribution. And then specifically for less affluent schools.

We also support better agreements on minimum extra activities organized by schools. A type of basic education standard. Schools now decide for themselves what to do in terms of extracurricular activities. One school organizes one excursion a year and the other four. What if we said: Every secondary school organizes at least one trip for a specified number of academic years within Europe for an educational purpose? And then, as a government, you ensure that you help schools that cannot make it through ordinary funds, and schools that have children of parents who cannot afford the voluntary parental contribution.”

Do you have any tips for parents struggling with voluntary parental contribution?

“Be aware of your rights. You will never have to pay and your child can always take part in additional activities that fall under the new law on parental voluntary contributions. And you can always contact your local Leergeldstichting, or us as an umbrella organization. In principle, we no longer pay the parental voluntary contribution, But we can pay and forward the other costs.

We can also explain in understandable language how the new law on voluntary parental contributions works. What I also do, after receiving signals from parents, is anonymously report to the local Leergeldstichting a school that still excludes children of non-paying parents. Then the establishment knows that this is a problem in their municipality.”

There are also bodies, such as the Association for Public Education (VOO), that argue that voluntary parental contribution should be eliminated entirely. How do you feel about that?

“I find that complicated. Money still has to be made for extra activities. In most schools, it will continue if 80 or 90 percent of parents pay. In most cases, parents can and want to do it. If you cancel the parental contribution, you lose that part.” So we rather believe in a tailor-made solution from the government.”

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