Gonski a threst to school funding
2nd April 2012

Now that the dust has settled surrounding the release of the Commonwealth commissioned school funding report (the Gonski Report was released at a Canberra lock-up on February 20) it's a good time to look more closely at the report's significance and what it might mean to government and non-government schools.

The need for further analysis is especially significant given the growing realisation, notwithstanding the initial media coverage suggesting the report was well received by all the key interest groups, that the report, if implemented, represents a serious challenge to the financial viability of non-government schools.

Even non-government school critics, in their more candid moments, admit that the Gonski Report represents a threat to Catholic and independent schools. Chris Bonnor and Jane Caro, both on the public record attacking non-government schools, in a joint comment piece in the Sydney Morning Herald argue:

"No doubt some private schools could become more expensive as their public funding reduces in real terms."

Another non-government school critic, Michael Furtado, agrees with the above sentiment when he writes in a comment piece for Eureka Street:

"While Gonski has said no school will lose funding, elite schools, most of them independent and some of them state-based and selective, will get a smaller proportion of total funding…"

The reality is that the report discriminates against non-government school parents by recommending that Catholic and independent schools must contribute at least 10 per cent from local funds, such as school fees, to what the school receives from government (what is known as the School Resource Standard).

As noted by Jennifer Buckingham from the Sydney-based Centre for Independent Studies, the Gonksi Report is "fundamentally discriminatory" as only non-government schools will have their funding reduced according to the "capacity of parents enrolling their children in the school to contribute financially".

Low-fee-paying non-government schools, especially Catholic schools in disadvantaged communities, will be especially worse off as, in all likelihood, they will be forced to suffer cut backs or raise fees, thus, making it more difficult for parents to choose their schools.

Wealthy government schools like Melbourne and Balwyn High and Sydney's James Ruse, on the other hand, even though they charge fees and receive money from trusts and philanthropic sources, face no such penalty.

The argument that government schools are unique and that they deserve special treatment, as they are 'free, compulsory and secular' no longer applies. The growth of selective state schools, only open to those who pass the entry examination, and the fact that entry to much sought-after state schools in wealthy areas is only open to those who can afford million dollar-plus real estate, proves that many government schools are no longer open to all.

Fears that non-government schools will suffer are compounded by the fact that the Commonwealth Government, after two years of consultation and review, 7,000 submissions and commissioning comprehensive and detailed research papers, refuses to make public the modelling employed to verify the new funding model and to justify Gonski's request for an additional $5 billion in annual spending.

The reality is that both non-government schools and the various states, like cash-strapped Victoria, that are being asked to contribute 70 per cent of the $5 billion figure, are in the dark when it comes to the financial details and assumptions underlying the report and that are being used to justify the report's not so secret agenda to re-direct funds from non-government schools to government schools.

Such are fears about the deleterious impact of the Gonski Report that both Stephen Elder, from the Catholic Education Office in Melbourne, and Michelle Green, the head of Independent Schools Victoria, have both recently argued that fees will most likely rise if the report's recommendations are accepted.

It's only logical that if an additional $5 billion is to be injected into the education system, and cash-strapped Commonwealth and state governments refuse to come to the party, then the only option will be to redirect funding from non-government schools to government schools.

That the Gonski Report represents a threat to non-government schools possibly explains why the Government refused to endorse the report's recommendations when it was released late February deciding, instead, to undertake another round of consultations and review, not surprisingly chaired by David Gonski.

As to why the Gonski Report favours government schools at the expense of the 34 per cent of students attending non-government schools one needs to go no further than a speech given by David Gonski to the Australian Education Union's national conference in January 2011.

In that speech, not publicly released but available under FOI, Gonski endorses the AEU's campaign favouring government schools at the expense of non-government when he states:

"we need to continue to build a strong public school system, and investigate and understand the causes and effects of the enrolment shift from government to non-government".

The Gonski Report's focus on equity of outcomes, much like the Fabian socialist ideal of equality of outcomes, and its mantra that any new funding formula must ensure that "differences in educational outcomes are not the result of differences in wealth, income. Power or possessions" further reinforces the view that the report represents a clear and present danger to non-government schools and their parents.


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2nd April 2012

Now that the dust has settled surrounding the release of the Commonwealth commissioned school funding report (the Gonski Report was released at a Canberra lock-up on February 20) it's a good time to...
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