Non-government schools deserve funding
20th July 2010

The President of the Australian Education Union argued in the Canberra Times that the current SES funding model is flawed and that non-government schools do not deserve support,  I argue otherwise in a comment piece published in the paper, see below.

The Canberra Times, Page 9 (Tue 20 Jul 2010)
Kevin Donnelly

Jury's still out on school funding

Australian Education Union president Angelo Gavrielatos makes several misleading and incorrect claims when he argues that any new funding formula, to be introduced post-2012, must redirect government funds from non-government to state schools (''School funding review critical'', July 14, p19).He says the current socio-economic status funding model is unfair as it ''funds schools regardless of their needs or resources''. Wrong.

 It is means-tested with so-called wealthy non-government schools only receiving 13.7per cent of the cost to the Government of educating a student in a government school. Even those Catholic and independent schools serving disadvantaged communities only receive, on average, 70per cent of such a figure.  As the Productivity Commission noted, over 2007-08, governments spent $12,639 to educate a state school student but only $6606 for a non-government school student.

Every student at a Catholic or independent school saves government, and taxpayers, about $6000.  One estimate puts the saving at $7billion a year; money that can be spent on other priorities like health or social services.Gavrielatos implies that non-government schools receive government funding at the expense of state schools when he says, ''It is painfully clear that the current funding arrangements for schools are failing to deliver the resources to government schools.'

'He ignores the Productivity Commission's finding that, from 2003-04 to 2007-08, government funding to state schools increased in real terms by 1.6per cent a year, while non-government schools received an annual increase of just 0.65per cent. While the capital costs incurred by state schools are paid for by government, it is also the case that, when it comes to independent schools, governments only provide 20per cent of what is needed.  The other 80 per cent is raised locally by parents and school communities.

Gavrielatos's statement that ''it is only public schools which guarantee every child a place'' is also misleading.  Not only do selective government schools only enrol those students who pass entry tests, therefore excluding others, but state schools in wealthier suburbs, given that enrolments are zoned, are only open to those parents who can afford to buy $1 million-plus real estate.While it is understandable that a union president representing thousands of government school teachers would argue that state schools must receive funding priority, thereby categorising non-government students as second class, there is another approach.

Instead of pitting government schools against non-government schools, much like the class wars of yesteryear, why not guarantee that every student, regardless of school attended, receives the government funding required to ensure a comprehensive, well-resourced and rigorous education?The primary obligation of government  as education is a human right and parents are entitled to choose schools based on their convictions and beliefs  should be to fund students, not schools.Much like school voucher systems implemented overseas, each student would be entitled to a minimum funding allocation (or voucher) and funding would follow the child, regardless of school attended. Given that schools serve communities ranging from the more privileged to the less affluent, and the reality that some students are more difficult to teach than others, governments would provide extra funds on top of the minimum entitlement.

Research associated with vouchers suggests that empowering parental choice in education, especially in disadvantaged communities, pressures schools to better reflect community needs and aspirations as the system is market-driven.Introducing a new funding model is only part of the equation. One of the  outcomes of the Building the Education Revolution fiasco is the observation that because government schools are tied to an inflexible and unresponsive bureaucracy, they are forced to accept off-the-shelf designs that are unsuitable and costly.

 After months denying the problem, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has admitted that the program penalised government schools because of its inflexibility. The Opposition said  it would give principals the power to decide how funds are spent.As well as vouchers, all schools should be free to manage themselves.

 While a certain amount of regulation is required, in areas like financial probity and occupational health and safety, schools should be able to hire, fire and reward staff as they see fit. They should be able to govern themselves and establish an environment and curriculum that best reflects the needs and aspirations of their  communities.Unlike the union, which argues that any new funding model should reduce the amount of government funding to take into account monies raised through school fees and philanthropy, schools should not be penalised because they raise funds locally.

 All parents pay taxes and, as such, are entitled to a minimum level of government funding. 

Dr Kevin Donnelly is director of the Education Standards Institute and author of Australia's Education Revolution: How Kevin Rudd Won and Lost the Education Wars.




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Non-government schools deserve funding
20th July 2010
The President of the Australian Education Union argued in the Canberra Times that the current SES funding model is flawed and that non-government schools do not deserve support,  I argue othe...

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