School funding review
6th January 2011

In the following comment piece published in the Courier Mail I argue that the review of school funding, due to report this year, will compromise the autonomy of non-government schools.

RELEASED a week before Christmas, it's understandable why the Review of School Funding Issues Paper received minimal media coverage.

The paper is the work of a committee set up by then-education minister Julia Gillard to make recommendations about how government and non-government schools should be funded.

Sydney businessman David Gonski chairs the committee, which spent most of 2010 receiving submissions about what the new funding regime might look like after the current model expires in 2013.

The deadline for responses to the issues paper is March 31, 2011, and the final report promises to be a minefield.

It's understandable why school funding is such a politically charged issue. More than 34 per cent of students across Australia go to Catholic and independent schools and the figure rises to over 40 per cent at Years 11 and 12.

Australian parents, especially those committed to religious schools, want the freedom to choose where their children go to school and expect that such choice will be properly funded by state and federal governments.

On the other side of the debate, though, are those such as the Australian Education Union and activists such as Canberra-based Trevor Cobbold, who argue priority must be given to government schools and that the current system unfairly funds already wealthy non-government schools.

Ignored, based on 2007-08 Productivity Commission figures, is that government school students, on average, receive $12,639 in government funding, while the figure for non-government school students is only $6607. Every student attending a non-government schools saves the taxpayer about $6000.

What does the Gonski issues paper say about funding? While it's true it does not make public the views of the committee members, preferring to simply summarise the various submissions, it's possible to make some observations.

The paper spends much time detailing the current socioeconomic status (SES) funding model used to decide how much funding Catholic and independent schools receive from the Federal Government.

It's a pity there is minimal discussion in relation to government schools as such schools make up the lion's share of government investment.

As many government schools are well-endowed financially and serve wealthy communities, it would also be interesting to know the committee's views about whether such schools should have their funding reduced.

Non-government school critics mistakenly argue Australia's education system reinforces disadvantage and that, as most at-risk students are in government schools, money should be redirected from non-government schools to state schools.

When discussing equity in education, the issues paper endorses the view about disadvantage when it states, "many education groups concluded that these results suggest the allocation of funding to schooling in Australia may be inequitable and not fully supporting the opportunity for all students to achieve their full potential".

Ignored is the evidence that education in Australia is high quality/high equity and that non-government schools are especially effective in overcoming educational disadvantage.

One of the defining characteristics of non-government schools, and the reason why they are so successful, is their autonomy. The issues paper, by insinuating governments must have a "significant role" in regulating non-government schools, is in danger of undermining that autonomy.

While a degree of oversight is warranted, any sense that funding to non-government schools is conditional on such schools being regulated and controlled in the same way government schools are should be dismissed.

The issues paper also fails to discuss overseas innovations in school choice, including vouchers and charter schools, as exist in the US.

Vouchers, where the money follows the child regardless of school attended, promotes diversity and choice in education.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Peter Garrett, the federal Schools Minister, have promised no non-government school will lose money as a result of the Gonski review.

Parents will find out this year whether the Gillard Government can be believed.



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School funding review
6th January 2011
In the following comment piece published in the Courier Mail I argue that the review of school funding, due to report this year, will compromise the autonomy of non-government schools.RELEASED a w...

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