Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Why funding private schools is *NOT* a smart idea

Kevin Donnelly thinks we need a private school system in Australia and that it actually helps the public school system.

"... private school parents pay taxes for a public school system they don't use plus school fees."
As they absolutely should do if they are deliberately choosing to snub the system that has been established for all Australian children. If this line of argument was applied to taxes across the board - ie individuals only contributing taxes to what they explicitly use - there would be no centralised, objective and strategic distribution of our tax money, which is what our Governments are [supposed to be] doing on behalf of and in the interests of all Australians.

"... [students] enrolled in Catholic and independent schools saves state, territory and Commonwealth governments billions of dollars every year... [due to] the additional cost to government if the private school sector closed and students had to be enrolled in state schools."
Yes, extra students in the Government system would mean extra funds required to this system, but Governments should not be 'let off the hook' here - they have a fundamental responsibility to provide education to all children and should be allocating resources to ensure this.
In reality, the greater capacity of most private school families to pay voluntary school contributions, to fund raise, to pay for school resources / excursions / camps / events,  etc, would see these students be far less of a 'burden' than the inclusion of a child from average or below-average life circumstances [most of these students are already served by public schools!].


"... while governments invest on average $15,768 per government school student in terms of recurrent costs, the figure for private school students is only $8546... [Catholic and independent schools] receive only 22.4 per cent of what state and Commonwealth governments spend on education in terms of recurrent costs."

The implied question is the wrong one here - instead of asking why private school students are 'only' invested in to the tune of $8546, the question we should be analysing is why non-government schools are receiving any government funding at all, when the people sending their children to these schools are deliberately choosing to not take up the government's offer of free, quality education in a government school.
The other side of this is that students in government schools [who take 'all comers'] typically need more investment to ensure their educational achievement. It is students in government schools who are far more likely to have challenging behaviours, identified special needs, speak languages other than English and generally come from home environments that are further removed from school environments. These Government school students are way more likely to need smaller teacher : student ratios, access to intervention programs, access to more and better-quality resources, financial support for involvement with extra-curricular programs and events, etc. 
I think this was what Gonski was largely about... 

"... the fact that [private] schools exist frees up funds that governments can then redirect to their own schools."
Except that our Governments continue to fund private schools, which is a redirection of Government education funds away from Government education!!


Donnelly then spends the remaining majority of the article pumping up the positive results of a private school education - better learning outcomes, better university entrance results, better wages in later life..... 
Given that private schools don't have to contend with the same complexity of issues that can affect learning, as much diversity in their student cohorts, and face less financial resourcing challenges [due to their ability to 'double-dip' via Government funding plus capacity to charge their wealthier parent cohorts exorbitant annual fees], it is little wonder that these children of advantage continue to maintain an advantage in their learning outcomes at school, their access to tertiary education and their post-education job success.
This inequitable, two-tier system of education in Australia encourages broader societal inequity. This maintain the status quo-type mindset of conservative thinkers results in the advantaged becoming more advantaged, the wealthy getting wealthier and power remaining with the powerful.
It is this type of conservative thought that will form one half of Christopher Pyne's review into the fledgling Australian Curriculum. I'm nervous...