Classroom commodification means all-out war
The Opposition’s fights with Government bills to wind back health insurance subsidies and family payments have been friendly skirmishes compared to the all-out war it would launch if private school funding is cut.
The Government will be tempted to do that to feed a much-promised Budget surplus in 2012-13.
A report on school funding, to be released today by David Gonski after 18 months in preparation, could give the Government the excuses and mechanisms for the task.
And it would have the backing of powerful teacher unions, who want more money spent on government schools. Bob Brown’s Greens are looking for funding restrictions on non-government educators. The Opposition, however, would battle it fiercely on both political and policy grounds.
Tony Abbott has glibly described many priorities as been embedded in Liberal chromosomes, but state aid for schools really is party of the party’s political DNA. Prime Minister Julia Gillard is a big fan of the Catholic education system, and any attack, no matter how subtle, on non government classrooms would fire up a political whirlwind.
Further, Schools Minister Peter Garrett has said not one school will have money cut from their allocations. However, that might not be comfort enough for the sector.
Government schools receive 78.7 per cent of funding from state and federal governments, and they educate 66 per cent of all pupils. That means some 21.3 per cent of funding goes to non-government schools for the education of 34 per cent of students.
Government schools received $13,544 per student from all government sources, according to a 2009 review. For Catholic schools the figure was $8987, and for independent schools $7694.
Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne wants a guarantee that funding will be indexed in the next four-year round to start next year. Otherwise, he calculates, parents could be forced to pay an extra $3600 a student to make up for a $4.2 billion shortfall caused by non-indexation.
The Opposition wants funding to be based on SES (socioeconomic status) basis which it says is objective and more reliable than the NAPLAN evaluation of need.
These are a couple of the dollars and cents elements of the debate. The core of the issue is ideological, to a magnitude which most other issues confronting Federal Parliament do not match.
It goes to the twin principles of choice and private investment, versus a belief the state does not have an obligation to pay for education in well-endowed schools and should concentrate on public classrooms.
“One of the great myths about the current school funding system is that “wealthy schools” receive too much Commonwealth funding,’’ Mr Pyne said in a speech earlier this month.
“Schools with a strong base of financial support receive substantially less government funding than those with little support. Under the SES funding model the most well-off schools receive an amount per student that is equivalent to 13.7 per cent of the average recurrent cost of educating a child in government schools.
“In 2011 this translates to just $1329 per primary school student per year.
“Given we believe all children are entitled to a quality education there must be at least a basic degree of support from the Commonwealth to meet the cost of that education.
“And given that parents of children who send their child to a non-government school pay taxes, it is fair that schools that educate these children should receive some government assistance.’’
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