On Monday 20th February, the Government released the Gonski Review on Funding for Schooling. Commissioned in 2010, it is the most comprehensive review of the system since 1973 and outlines many changes that need to be implemented in order to turn around worsening problems in the education sector. School funding is an often politically radioactive issue that is almost invariably divided along party lines, and this review is set to revive debate and scrutiny over this flawed system.
The system introduced by the Howard Liberal Government is inherently unjust and patently benefits the private school sector, undoubtedly a great success for their war on public education.
The funding system for non-government schools is based on socioeconomic status of students, to obtain a profile on the school community and its ability to support the school. The intention of this policy is to keep private school fees lower, but in practice schools have continued to raise their fees — on average by five to ten per cent per annum.
The Liberal Party argues that their policies aim to protect choice. However, this funding model has seen the idea of real choice in education completely destroyed, with private schools possessing startling fortunes and providing state-of-the-art facilities and re- sources, while public schools are unable to fund even a most basic standard of education.
The Liberal Party’s systematic attack on public education is symptomatic of their ideological opposition to the very idea.
The Gonski Review recommends — in brief — a funding increase of more than $5 billion, a shift to a “schooling resource standard” that allocates funding per student, increased focus on teacher quality, a system that takes into account the school community’s ability to contribute and increased school level autonomy.
According to Gonski, the review aims to deliver funding for a minimum standard of education based on “need, regardless of sector and jurisdiction”, aiming to address the widening gap in education, with any changes coming into effect in 2014.
All these recommendations need to be adopted, one of the most important being the linking of private contributions to the amount of funding private schools receive. The best private schools in Australia charge around $30 000 for a year of education, and receive enormous donations.
They do not hide their fortunes, constructing facilities that cost tens of millions of dollars. The Government’s recently introduced MySchool website has exposed that these same private schools receive $30 000 to $40 000 in funding per student, more than doubling their income. These extra funds are not only used to lavish students with everything they need and more, but also to offset the sizeable expenditure these institutions commit to lobbying the government to continue this vicious circle. In the current system, the injustice is exponentially self-perpetuating.
Public schools often do not have enough money to supply a class with a complete set of books, to perform necessary repair jobs, to meet recommended class size standards, and the list of basic tenets of quality education unable to met on.
To be fair, many non-government schools are not wealthy, which is why funding needs to be means tested and needs based.
While the equation is clearly more complex than this, fundamentally, schools need money to provide a good education. Public schools have very little; private schools have a lot.
The government should have no part in perpetuating this inequality, as increasing disadvantage in public schools is deepened as funding is wasted on wealthy private schools.