EDUCATION: by Dr Kevin DonnellyNews Weekly
School funding and the politics of envy
, November 26, 2011
Prime Minister Gillard, when education minister, argued that school funding was such an important and sensitive issue that there was no place for the old politics of class envy and sectarian divide.
It’s a pity that the federal president of the Australian Education Union, Angelo Gavrielatos, refuses to follow Gillard’s advice. Since the funding review was announced in April last year, the AEU has mounted a strident and vindictive campaign condemning non-government schools, supposedly, for being elitist, privileged, over-resourced and guilty of “residualising” government schools.
Ignored is the fact that there are many non-government schools serving low to middle socioeconomic communities, that school choice is the right of every parent, and that the current funding model is based on need — a situation where wealthier schools receive significantly less funding than schools with more disadvantaged students.
Also ignored is the fact that there are many selective government schools that discriminate in terms of enrolments and many government schools open only to those parents who can afford million-dollar-plus real estate in the school’s enrolment zone. It is wrong to argue that state schools are open to all comers.
The most recent version of Mr Gavrielatos’s attack on non-government schools is in response to a decision three months ago by the body responsible for the My School website to postpone making publicly available schools’ financial details related to trusts, assets and other financial information (school fees and levels of government support are currently posted for all schools).
The AEU president condemns the fact that the additional financial information will be available only in 2013, not 2012, and berates non-government schools for being profit-driven and wanting to hide “what they have in the bank and what they have stashed away in foundations and trusts”.
On being interviewed by the Sydney Morning Herald earlier this year, Gavrielatos attacked non-government schools for “receiving more funding per student from the federal government than thousands of public schools (and) rather than providing an educational benefit, the money is just boosting their profits”.
That Mr Gavrielatos’s opposition to non-government schools is driven more by class envy than rational debate is proven by the fact that he failed to mention that both federal and state governments fund schools. Add both and it is clear that on average, and based on Productivity Commission figures, whereas state schools are funded at approximately $12,639 per student, non-government students receive only $6,607.
Put another way, whereas non-government schools enrol approximately 34 per cent of Australian students, they receive only 21 per cent of government revenue. As illustrated by the example of Victoria’s independent schools, where parents and other private sources generate 66.6 per cent of income, the reality is that non-government schools and parents across Australia save taxpayers billions of dollars each year.
Critics also fail to mention that while non-government schools receive financial support from governments in terms of per student recurrent expenditure, unlike government schools where land, buildings and infrastructure are paid for by government, Catholic and independent schools, in the main, have to provide for themselves.
Newspaper headlines like “Elite schools reap solid profits — with the help of public funding”, “Private schools escape scrutiny” and “Elite schools with huge profits shouldn’t get generous funding”, while calculated to evoke a strong emotional response, fail to acknowledge that non-government schools have every right to save and invest.
Rather than being condemned for being financially responsible and investing funds earmarked for much needed capital expenditure and related costs, non-government schools should be applauded for saving governments, and taxpayers, the expense of having to contribute.
It is clear that, instead of acknowledging the right of all students, regardless of school attended, to be properly funded by government, critics such as the Australian Education Union are pushing to make public the financial details of non-government schools as a strategy to deny them funding.
Characterising such schools, however misleadingly, as wealthy, privileged and over-resourced justifies governments reducing funding and placing an increased financial burden on parents in the form of increased fees.
The biased and ideologically-driven nature of attacks by critics such as the AEU is made more evident by the fact that such critics never condemn those government schools that also charge fees and make use of trusts and other investments.
According to the 2009 information on the My School website, Balwyn High, in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, raised $1,871,064 from fees, charges and parents’ contributions and $1,008,880 from other private sources while Melbourne High raised $2,204,010 from fees, charges and parents and $2,416,288 from other sources.
Clearly, if Angelo Gavrielatos and other critics of non-government schools were consistent, they would be arguing that the full financial details of government schools should also be made public and that such schools should receive less state and federal funding to take account of what is raised locally.
Dr Kevin Donnelly is author of Australia’s Education Revolution (available from News Weekly Books for $29.95) and is director of the Education Standards Institute.
The above comment piece originally appeared on the ABC’s The Drum opinion website (August 4, 2011), at: