Non-government schools deserve funding
3rd May 2011

In the following, published in the Canberra Times, I argue that non-government schools deserve funding and warn that the Gillard-led ALP Government cannot be trusted to properly fund such schools.

If you believe the Commonwealth Schools Minister, Peter Garrett, the Opposition spokesman, Christopher Pyne, is alone in expressing support for the existing socioeconomic status model used to fund non-government schools.

The SES model, introduced in the Howard years, apportions federal funding to non-government schools according to a school community's socioeconomic profile, as measured by ABS census data related to parents' income, education and occupation. In a recent interview Garrett argues that the funding model is in ''urgent need of root-and-branch reform'' and that Pyne's support for this model proves him to be ''a lonely ideologue on the issue''.

Wrong. If Garrett had read the submission to the Gonski funding review prepared by the Independent Schools Council of Australia , he would know that the independent schools sector also sees merit in the SES model.

ISCA describes it as ''an efficient and effective mechanism for directing Australian Government recurrent funding according to need in the independent sector''.

The point is also made that the SES model, based on census data, is a ''robust'' method of collecting information under ''controlled and consistent'' conditions.

ISCA's view that the SES model, while in need of some reform, successfully ensures that non-government schools are fairly funded is mirrored by a 2006 review carried out by the then Department of Education, Science and Training that concluded, ''The SES model was generally accepted as fair and transparent.''

Given that the Gonski report is not due until the end of the year, Garrett is also wrong to pre-empt any recommendations by arguing that the SES model has ''reached its use-by date''. That Garrett has entered the funding debate in such a deliberate and public manner by condemning current arrangements does not bode well for non-government schools. Parents paying taxes for a system they don't use plus school fees should also be worried that two of the members of the Gonski review, Ken Boston and Carmen Lawrence, are on record arguing that government schools must receive priority funding and that non-government schools are over-resourced under the SES model.

The fear that funding to Catholic and independent schools is under threat is reinforced by the fact that Garrett's criticisms are the same as strident non-government-school critics such as the Australian Education Union and the Greens.

Over the past two to three years, the AEU has campaigned extensively, arguing that the system is ''complex, opaque and confusing'' and must be abandoned, as it has ''directly or indirectly encouraged private education''. The Greens' policy, like Mark Latham's hit-list of privileged schools taken to the 2004 election, also argues that the SES model is inequitable and funding must be cut.

It is no secret that the AEU is an ally of ALP governments and that the union has a record of contributing money and resources during election campaigns. Given that the Gillard-led government will soon be relying on Greens support in the Senate, it's also understandable that Garrett is copying Greens policy.

There is an alternative to the old and sterile politics of class envy and sectarian divide. Instead of arguing that non-government schools, which are largely faith-based, are not entitled to government funding, the debate should be about the best way to fund all school students.

Some 34per cent of students across Australia now attend Catholic and independent schools, rising to more than 40per cent in years 11 and 12. They and their parents deserve a proper level of government support.

Contrary to the myths perpetuated by the AEU and the Greens, the SES model does not provide an unending river of funds to non-government schools. In 2008-09, the total government recurrent expenditure for school education was $38.9billion.

Government schools received $30.9billion and non-government schools $8.1billion. While government school students receive, on average, $13,544 from government, non-government-school students receive $6100.

Based on 2008-09 figures, instead of being a drain on taxpayer funds, non-government schools save governments about $7billion. Such schools, even after adjusting for students' socioeconomic profile, also achieve stronger educational outcomes compared with government schools.


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3rd May 2011

In the following, published in the Canberra Times, I argue that non-government schools deserve funding and warn that the Gillard-led ALP Government cannot be trusted to properly fund such schools. ...
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