School funding review

04 Dec 2011 Article

Cost of living increases have battered South Australians over the past few years.

Electricity prices in particular have hit many people hard. Up by 75 per cent since 2002, we are now facing another 10-30 per cent increase next year (depending on whose modelling you believe) thanks to the carbon tax we were promised by the Prime Minister would never happen.

But there is another looming cost of living increase that will hurt millions of families and could cost thousands of additional dollars a year.

It is increasingly apparent that the Gillard Government plans to cut funding for non-government education.

Schools Minister, Peter Garrett, fresh from the disastrous roof batt programme linked to house fires and tragic deaths, has been placed in charge of devising a new school funding model.

Alarmingly, Mr Garrett has refused to commit to the indexation of school funding, which means that as costs go up, schools may not be compensated in real terms to cover those costs.

The Independent Schools Council Executive Director, Bill Daniels recently confirmed that if indexation is lowered school fees will be forced up to make up the shortfall in funding, which is bad news for millions of parents.

It is estimated that cuts to indexation could cost non-government schools $4.2 billion over four years, which represents an average increase of school fees of $3600 or cost cutting measures that could leave as many as 50,000 teachers unemployed.

Little wonder then that the Independent Education Union, representing teachers in non-government schools, recently split from the Australian Council of Trade Unions, alarmed over Labor’s campaign against non-government school funding and the impact this will have on their members jobs.

The Government is attempting to reignite the old debate over public versus private and the politics of envy by publishing school financial data on the My School website, in an attempt to justify their cuts to non-government schools. However the data shows that on average non-government schools receive half the amount that is given to government schools by the Federal and State Governments.

When considered objectively, this level of funding is entirely justified. In Australia every child is entitled to an education paid for by the taxpayer and provided by the state. If parents cannot afford this expense it is free and generally of a very high standard.

By sending their children to non-government schools and paying school fees parents are essentially subsiding the taxpayer for half the amount of what it would cost to send them to a government school.

With 34 per cent of all students in non-government schools, rising to almost 50 per cent in high school, this is a very big subsidy indeed.

The cost of moving the 1.2 million students in non-government schools into government education would be an additional $14.4 billion a year and at least triple that again to build the new facilities needed – a staggering amount and a true measure of the benefits of having a school system that offers choice.

If even 10 per cent of those 1.2 million switched to government schools as a result of higher schools fees, 120,000 students would have to be accommodated in existing or new schools, meaning bigger class sizes, further stretched teachers and billions of dollars in additional expenditure.

So why is this Labor so opposed to non-government school funding?

It is an ideological position that has long dominated Labor Party thinking. Centralisation, bureaucracy, union control, secularisation and homogeny are the ethos that drives Labor and their coalition partners, the Greens.

Next year the debate over education funding will begin in earnest. Parents with children in both non-government and government schools should be very concerned about the impact of higher school fees and what a potential flood of new students into the government sector will have on their children’s education.