SCHOOL FUNDING: by John BallantyneNews Weekly
Giving parents greater choice
, October 22, 2005
Voucher funding for schools can help poorer families by giving them more choice in education, writes John Ballantyne.
Parents should receive the same government funding for their child's education, regardless of whether the child goes to a government or private school, former competition watchdog chief Allan Fels has proposed.
Addressing a Sydney conference on the future of education, Fels said that it was time for Australia to introduce a voucher scheme that would allow parents to receive equal funding for every child of school age, irrespective of school attended.
This would end "the Berlin Wall" between government and private schooling and deliver greater choice to parents, he predicted.Equivalent funding
Under the scheme, parents of each child of school age would be issued with an annual book of vouchers, one for each semester. The voucher would be equivalent in value to the current cost of educating a child at a government school.
Professor Fels, former chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), was speaking in Sydney on September 28 at the Schooling for the 21st Century
conference which he had organised. Other speakers included Federal Education Minister Dr Brendan Nelson, Opposition Leader Kim Beazley and former Blair Government education adviser Michael Barber.
Professor Fels's proposed voucher scheme is not a new idea, but is rarely given a hearing because it is subject to numerous misunderstandings and misrepresentations.
Any proposal to give taxpayers' money to non-government, independent schools is invariably opposed by education bureaucrats and left-wing teachers' unions.
They regard state aid, or voucher funding, for independent schools as tantamount to starving state schools of funds in order to subsidise wealthy private ones.
But Professor Fels has argued that vouchers help poorer families by giving them more choice in education.
"You give the money to the parents and they have to spend it on education, but they can choose what kind of education and that puts more pressure on schools to meet their wishes," he said.
Another voucher supporter who addressed the Sydney conference was Professor Terry Moe, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and a professor of political science at Stanford University.
Author of Schools, Vouchers and the American Public
and A Primer on America's Schools
, he described how powerful interests have always attempted to thwart similar schemes in the United States.
But voucher schemes, where they have been tried out - usually on a restricted and temporary basis - have succeeded in helping disadvantaged families by enabling their children to attend low-fee independent schools, and this has improved the quality of their education.
"Because kids can leave bad schools, a voucher scheme puts schools on notice," Professor Moe said.
A week after the conference, a Monash University study found that students at government schools in Victoria were under-performing and falling behind in the competition for university places.
In contrast, students at independent, non-government schools were consistently achieving higher marks.
"In terms of access to university, the government school sector is slipping behind its vigorous independent school competitors," said the report, Unequal Access to University Places
The report was prepared by Daniel Edwards, Bob Birrell and T. Fred Smith at the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University.