ALP can't be trusted on school funding
15th July 2010

The ALP has postponed any decision about school funding until after the forthcoming election - I argue that the ALP's secret agenda is to cut funding to non-government schools.  The article is below as well as posted on the ABC The Drum Unleashed website.

It’s clear that a federal election is imminent and that the ALP government, with Julia Gillard at the helm, is doing everything possible to nullify what it sees as obstacles to being re-elected.

Home insulation, refugees, the super mining tax and universal broadband are all policy issues and programs either deferred or where the government has performed an abrupt about face – add school funding to the list.

In his new role as Minister for Education, Simon Crean, argues that so-called wealthy, private schools have nothing to fear from a re-elected ALP government.  After opposing the then Howard Government’s model for funding non-government schools for years and years, best illustrated by Mark Latham’s hit-list of private schools taken to the 2004 election, the ALP now argues it fully supports the right of non-government schools to be properly funded.

Minister Crean is recently quoted as saying, “There is no schools hit list for those who want to run a scare campaign” and “No school will be worse off.  Not a dollar will be taken away”.

Can Minister Crean be taken at his word and will non-government school funding be guaranteed?  The first thing to note is that Minister Crean refuses to say whether funding will be indexed on an annual basis and whether government funding will be reduced as a result of schools raising funds locally through fees and philanthropic sources.

The current socioeconomic status (SES) funding model does not penalise schools by including private funds when deciding how much they should receive from government.

Just compare what the current Minister says with what Julia Gillard promised in 2008 when she was the Minister for Education, “the Rudd Government has given a set of guarantees to the non-government schools… Those guarantees are that we would maintain the SES model, we would maintain the status of funding maintained and funding guaranteed.  We’d maintain the way in which the Catholic system is funded and we would maintain indexation arrangements”.

The second point to note is that the results of the funding review will not be known until next year, 2011, some months after the forthcoming election.  That any new funding arrangements will harm non-government schools is highly probable, given that two of the panel members, Ken Boston and Carmen Lawrence, are on the public record arguing that government schools deserve priority and that the current SES model is flawed.

It’s no secret that the Australian Education Union campaigns on a regular basis in support of the ALP. At the 1995 national teacher unions’ conference, the then federal Minister for Employment, Education and Training, Simon Crean, stated: “In 1993 the support of the unions was crucial to the ALP’s return to Government”.

More recently, the AEU contributed millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours in a marginal seats campaign during the 2007 election to destroy the Howard Government. Given that the union is a strident opponent of funding to non-government schools, if the ALP government is re-elected the pressure will be on to return the AEU’s support by redirecting funding from non-government schools to state schools.

In fact, notwithstanding the arguments put by critics, there is a strong case that government funding to Catholic and independent schools should be increased.  The 2010 Commonwealth Report on Government Services states that government school students, based on 2007-08 figures, receive $12,639 in government funding, the equivalent figure for a non-government school student is $6,607.

Non-government school parents, in addition to school fees, also pay taxes for a system they do not use.  Instead of being a drain on government resources, the fact that approximately 30% of students attend non-government schools means that governments save approximately $7 billion a year – the additional cost involved if such students had to be taught in government schools.

Instead of only serving the so-called privileged, there are many Catholic and independent schools in less affluent suburbs and in regional and country Australia serving diverse, multicultural communities and families.

Isik College, for example, in Melbourne’s north-western suburbs has an socioeconomic score of 88 (placing it at the lower end of the disadvantage scale used by the Commonwealth Government to decide funding), but has an outstanding record of Year 12 achievement with 88% of the 2009 students enrolled at university (figures based on the 2010 Victorian Government On Track data.)

With 73% of the 2009 students enrolled at university and 20% enrolled in a TAFE course, Minaret College in Springvale is another independent school proving that so-called disadvantaged students can achieve success.

Critics like the AEU also ignore the fact that the current socioeconomic (SES) funding model is needs based.  Wealthier independent schools only receive 13.7% from government of the cost of educating a student in a government school, with needier non-government schools receiving 70% - a figure still significantly short of full government funding received by state schools.

By characterising non-government schools as being elitist and only open to wealthier families, critics also ignore the fact that academically successful government schools in capital cities’ wealthier suburbs only enrol students whose parents can afford local real estate.

The only parents who can enrol their children in a school like Melbourne’s Balwyn High, for example, are those who can afford to spend a $million plus on a home in the school’s catchment area; less well off parents don’t have the choice.

At a time when state and federal governments are calling on schools to raise standards, increase retention rates and help more students enrol in tertiary studies, it’s also the case that non-government schools, compared to government schools, are highly successful.

Research undertaken by Gary Marks, from the Australian Council for Educational Research, analysing the Year 12 performance of government and non-government schools suggests that it is wrong to argue that independent schools achieve the best results because their students come from privileged backgrounds.

After analysing the various factors impacting on Year 12 results, Marks summarises research into disadvantage by concluding, “research has shown that socioeconomic background has only a moderate relationship with educational outcomes, not the deterministic relationship so often claimed”.

Overseas research by the German academic, Ludger Woessmann, also concludes that the success of independent schools cannot be explained by arguing that they only teach already privileged students.  Woessmann also argues that additional resources and facilities do not explain why independent schools achieve the best academic results.

At the moment, the ALP government is trying to bury the issue of school funding until after the forthcoming election, it will be interesting to see how such a strategy plays out during the election campaign.

Dr Kevin Donnelly is author of Australia’s Education Revolution: How Kevin Rudd Won and Lost the Education Wars (Connor Court Publishing) and Director of Education Standards Institute (ESI), 



Responses to this Post

Igor Bray says:

To my mind the fundamental problem is with State funding faith-based schools. There are many good reasons why there is a separation of State and Religion. The State should not be funding the propagation of any religion. However, any school that does not discriminate in their choice of staff or students on the basis of religion, and provides a quality pluralistic education, does deserve State funding.

Igor Bray
Winthrop, WA



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15th July 2010

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