FREMANTLE’S Italian Club has joined a campaign that’s fighting to stop funding cuts to a comprehensive Italian language education program.
This week the campaigners lodged a 6000-signature petition with the state parliament calling on the Barnett government to reverse its decision.
For 37 years the Italo-Australian Welfare and Culture Centre has run the program, with educators across 81 schools now teaching 22,000 students.
But the government last year decided to re-distribute its funding so providers teaching other languages receive more.
WA treasurer Mike Nahan notes the budget for the community languages program (CLP) is $1.058 billion, and funding per student has “increased from $65 to $100”.
He says a review—the first in 30 years—had found 77 per cent of funding going towards Italian but the CLP was “never intended to be an Italian-specific language program”.
“Its primary function is to provide grant funding to not-for-profit community organisations to teach languages other than English and cultural maintenance programs after school hours,” Dr Nahan told the Herald.
He says it’s “inequitable and unsustainable” that 29 providers teaching 18 languages receive just 23 per cent of funding.
“WA is home to people from more than 200 countries who speak more than 270 languages,” Dr Nahan says. “The changes being made are needed to ensure that the CLP is relevant and responsive to the current and future needs of WA’s diverse and growing population.”
But Fremantle Italian Club president Fred Calginari says 600 of his members and their families are upset.
“Perth was founded in 1829 and I know for sure Italians were here in 1830,” he told the Herald.
“Italian culture has a long history here and it would be a shame for children to miss out on our language in schools.
“We’re not saying that other languages shouldn’t be funded in schools, but just don’t cut off money for kids who want to learn Italian.”
The club was amongst dozens of teachers and community members who this week rallied at state parliament, where the petition was tabled by the Labor opposition.
Maria Famiano, who teaches Italian at Como and St Michael’s primary schools, says the cuts will add her to the unemployment line,
“I’ve been working in this role for more than seven years,” she says.
“Most schools won’t be able to afford putting teachers like me on the payroll.”
by EMMIE DOWLING