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"Last month’s figures released by the education department showed more than 10,000 prep to year 3 students were being taught in overcrowded state school classrooms. Those figures showed seven per cent of prep to year 3 classes, which contained 146,000 students in February this year, are over their class target size of 25 students.

A government member: Seven per cent!

Mr EMERSON: We hear them say ‘seven per cent’. That is a shocking figure. Well, it is a shocking figure if your child is in one of those classes."

Mr EMERSON (Indooroopilly—LNP) (4.20 pm): One of the constant concerns raised with me by parents when I see them at school functions, P&C meetings or at my regular community corners is overcrowding at local schools. They know that the Bligh government is intent on having more dwellings in Brisbane—156,000 more by 2031, an extra 40 per cent. They also know they are seeing more families in their community and more young children. While they welcome those families and the children, they worry about where those children and their own will find school places. They see the pressures on principals and staff trying to cope with more and more children within their catchment area.

What stuns them is when I tell them of the comments by the education minister about schools in the Indooroopilly electorate including Ironside, Indooroopilly, Fig Tree Pocket, Graceville and Sherwood. The minister claims his department is carefully monitoring the demand for school places in the Indooroopilly electorate. What he also claims—and this surprises many of those parents—is that demand has been stable for many years. The minister also said that, while there has been significant housing activity in the Indooroopilly area, the increasing number of dwellings has tended to accommodate residents other than families with young children. This is when you see the parents shake their heads in disbelief. They cannot believe the minister and his department are claiming that families with young children are not moving into the Indooroopilly electorate, because those parents I speak to know that what the minister is claiming is untrue—they see the evidence of more families and more children as they travel through their community.

Unfortunately the minister does not see the truth. And you can understand why those parents can have no confidence that the Bligh government will recognise the important issue, even as it tries to squeeze more people into the Indooroopilly electorate, because the education minister does not believe there is overcrowding. He does not even like the word. He prefers to describe it as ‘high utilisation’. But the reality is contained in the education department’s own figures. Last month’s figures released by the education department showed more than 10,000 prep to year 3 students were being taught in overcrowded state school classrooms. Those figures showed seven per cent of prep to year 3 classes, which contained 146,000 students in February this year, are over their class target size of 25 students.

A government member: Seven per cent!

Mr EMERSON: We hear them say ‘seven per cent’. That is a shocking figure. Well, it is a shocking figure if your child is in one of those classes. What a shame that this government is not concerned about those children in those overcrowded schools. It thinks that it is okay if it is just seven per cent. I say that it is not okay and those parents I speak to say that it is not okay also. Despite these figures, the department of education’s deputy director-general, Alan Wagner, denies that classes are overcrowded. And the minister adds to the denial, backing away from his commitment to maximum class sizes, with the minister saying they are ‘just a guide’.

But it is just not our schools that are being put under pressure by the Bligh government and its policy of denial. The kindergarten sector is also facing uncertainty over changes to funding structures in Queensland. Operators are warning that kindergartens across Queensland will have to increase fees, making them more expensive than some private schools. Others say they will be forced to close because the government funding changes mean they will face extra costs of between $30,000 and $120,000. Just like on class sizes and catchment pressures on schools, the minister is also in denial over kindergartens. We have seen more of that denial today in his recent response. The minister claims no kindergarten will be worse off. But staff at C&K affiliated kindergartens say the new funding regime, to start next year, will force centres to raise fees, meaning a place will cost parents between $22 and $30 a day, up from $12 to $18 a day. Government funding will be based on $2,100 per child rather than the current funding of 80 per cent of teachers’ wages.

One kindergarten’s committee treasurer was reported as saying—and this is important for the minister to hear, because he denies this is the case—that he feared parents will be unable to pay the increased fees. Another committee member said committees run by parents were ‘flying in the dark’ regarding government policy and how the changes would work. A director-teacher from another C&K affiliated kindergarten—which did not wish to be named in the report because it said it had been warned it might lose its affiliation—believed it might have to be shut down because of the changes brought in by the Bligh government. ‘We’ll have about 30 pre-prep kids so that’s about $66,000 more to run the kindy’, she said. ‘I can’t make the figures work so we may have to close.’ It is a disgrace and it is of great concern to my community.