Hey Julia, you built the halls, now fix the schools
Education, especially school funding, is not only a barbecue stopper; it is also a vote changer.
Just ask Mark Latham about the impact of the hit list of so-called privileged schools he championed when he was leader of the ALP.
No wonder that Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, on taking over as leaders, rejected the politics of envy and argued in favour of school choice.
During the 2010 campaign, Prime Minister Gillard was so concerned about the issue that she promised to keep the existing socioeconomic status (SES) funding model for an additional year, until 2013.
Gillard also promised that Catholic and independent schools would not lose money as a result of the Gonski funding review currently underway – established by Gillard when she was Education Minister and due to report in 2011.
Unlike the Liberal Party, the ALP is a late convert to school choice. Such pragmatism is understandable. Across Australia, approximately 34% of students attend non-government schools and the figure rises to over 40% at years 11 and 12.
Parents, especially in marginal seats, are voting with their feet and over the years 1999-2009 enrolments on Catholic and independent schools grew by 21.3% while the growth figure for government schools flatlined at 1.2 per cent.
Given that non-government schools are increasingly popular and that school choice, especially for those parents committed to faith-based schools, is a fundamental human right, one might expect that all would agree that such schools should be properly funded.
One might also expect that the best response to government schools losing market share is to ask why state schools are no longer attractive to increasing numbers of parents and what can be done to strengthen such schools.
Logic and reason are not the hallmarks of the self-serving groups like the Australian Education Union and it should not surprise that the AEU, instead of addressing underlying causes, has mounted the barricades to argue that non-government schools should be starved of funding and subject to increased government regulation and intervention.
The AEU has mounted a campaign, including petitions, dedicated websites, surveys and fact sheets, arguing that non-government schools are over-funded, that such schools only serve the privileged and that Catholic and independent schools promote social instability and reinforce disadvantage.
The reality suggests otherwise. Instead of being over funded non-government schools receive significantly less funding when compared to government schools (the following figures are taken from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library Background Note on school funding, dated 17 November 2010).
On average, and excluding capital expenditure, government school students receive $12,639 in funding from state and federal governments, the figure for non-government schools is $6,606. Every student that attends a non-government school saves government, and taxpayers, approximately $6,000.
In terms of total funding non-governments schools raise 43% of their income from private sources with state and federal governments providing the other 57%. Contrary to the impression created by the AEU it is also the case that federal funding is allocated to schools according to a school’s socioeconomic status (SES).
In the words of the Parliamentary Library paper, “Australian Government recurrent per student funding for non-government schools is based on a measure of need”. Wealthier non-government schools only receive 13.7% of the federal funding figure, known as the Average Government School Recurrent Costs (AGSRC), with less privileged schools receiving 70%.
The AEU also argues that non-government schools contribute to social inequality and educational disadvantage. Once again, the evidence suggests otherwise.
Research both here and overseas concludes that Australia has a high degree of social mobility and one of the main reasons is because we have an education system, based on an analysis of the 2007 PISA results, that is high quality/high equity.
In the words of the 2008 OECD report Growing Unequal?: Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries, “Australia is one of the most socially mobile countries in the OECD” and “the educational attainment of parents affects the educational achievements of the child less than in most other countries”.
It’s also the case that while the ALP and the cultural-left condemn low SES students to educational failure, supposedly as disadvantage automatically leads to poor results, the example of non-government school proves otherwise.
Researchers at the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) after analysing Year 12 results conclude that non-government schools are more effective, compared to government schools, in getting low SES students to succeed.
In a 2002 ACER report analysing the factors that lead to success at Year 12, the researchers state, “Students who attended non-government schools outperformed students from government schools, even after taking into account socioeconomic background and achievement in literacy and numeracy”.
During the 2010 election campaign Julia Gillard nullified funding as an issue by maintaining the existing SES model until 2013 and promising that “no school will lose a dollar in funding”.
It’s significant that while the ALP’s rhetoric is supportive, the Gillard-led Government refuses to guarantee that funding will be maintained in real terms and that Catholic and independent schools will not suffer, either financially or in terms of their autonomy, as a result of the Gonski review.
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