Over the weekend the Labor Gillard Government announced its much heralded school education funding reforms. Prime Minister Gillard claimed that the plan would mean “better resourcing and better schools” resulting in “a stronger, smarter and fairer Australia for the future.
As Richard Teese in the Age and David Zyngier in The Conversation point out the plan simply entrenches and intensifies the growing divide between public schools and private independent schools.
In this country over the last four decades there has been an exponential growth in government funding going to middle class and wealthy private schools. This has been at at the expense of impoverished and disadvantaged public schools.
David Zyngier writes:
Gillard’s announcement of new school spending for primary school students of A$9,271 and for secondary students is A$12,193 is to be welcomed, but needs to be seen in the context of where the money both comes from and where it will go.As Teese and Zyngier point out the Gillard Plan entrenches disadvantage because it gives significant funding increases to private and independent schools despite 1000 of those schools already being over-funded.
Because of her previous commitments that no school will lose a dollar in funding many over-resourced independent and Catholic schools will continue to maintain their advantage at the expense of poorer resourced public schools. At the same time public schools in middle class suburbs also stand to benefit.
Richard Teese writes in the Melbourne Age:
Non-government schools will emerge as the big winners from the Council of Australian Governments meeting on national funding reform, to be held in Canberra on April 19. Which is ironic, seeing that the greatest need is in the public system. Few schools serving the poorest communities in Australia are non-government. About 80 per cent of all disadvantaged children attend government schools. Yet despite this, state and federal governments are set to give all non-government schools real increases in funds over the next three, and possibly six years. This includes the 1000 schools currently overfunded – schools that are "funding maintained".
The Gillard government has made private and Catholic schools a political priority. As most public funding for these schools comes from the Commonwealth, getting them on side will enable Canberra to pressure the states to boost funding for government schools – by at least 3 per cent.
Even if the states agree, this will not end the large funding gap between public and private. The federal government has had the chance to intervene massively in the funding of government schools, but it will have to finance its political debt with non-government schools through more public debt. It will have little to spare for government schools. These have been thrown back on the fiscal mercies of state governments.
We risk emerging from the most thorough review of national school funding with an architecture of advantage and disadvantage that is even stronger than when we began.
This owes much to the states, not just Canberra. They have used states’ rights to advantage non-government schooling, while cutting funds to government schools. The Australian constitution has become a wall behind which conservative ministers roam freely in their ideological dreaming. The funding review promised to pull down jurisdictional walls and to put children, not governments, first. Instead, taxpayers must find ever more money for private schools and for non-government systems to carve out ever more space in a feudal delusion that ignores one basic fact. Public schools are the schools of our nation. Their needs must not come second to private advantage or sectional interest.