Let’s be honest, the current federal funding model for schools has failed.
When the Howard government unveiled its new socioeconomic status (SES) funding model for non-government schools in early 2001, they described it as an efficient, effective method of fairly funding non-government schools and promised that the public system would not be affected. A decade later, they were wrong.
In 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that over 50% of the nations non-government schools would receive $2.7 billion in overpayments over the following four years. This is no small amount. In contrast, consider that the Western Australian state budget for public education in the 2010-2011 period is only $4.3 billion, or that the WA Police Force total is $1.1 billion. Despite public schools teaching two-thirds of students nationwide, it’s the non-government sector that receives 64% of federal education funds. Meanwhile, government schools are screaming for better resource distribution and greater equity in funding.
Higher funding and better resources mean that many private schools offer their students a greater scope to achieve their academic goals. Although some government schools are able to offer a high quality education, albeit with lower funding margins, many cannot and more parents are moving their children to the private sector. Students in many government schools are being disadvantaged as a result of funding shortfalls. Issues such as inadequate support for students with special needs, rural and remote students, funding for ‘English as a second language’ students and the lack of resources to improve community relationships could all be improved. Many government schools also lack sufficient resources in terms of technological or digital learning facilities while maintaining and updating ageing infrastructure is another shortfall. Rural high schools are prime examples, with many parents sending their children away to non-government institutions with the belief that they will have greater opportunities to reach their potential.
No-one is saying that non-government schools should not receive some form of government funding, however the fact remains that the current arrangements continue to disadvantage the government education sector and are hindering the ability for many public schools to provide their students with necessary resources that allow them to reach their full academic potential. This is in direct contrast to the federal governments own mandate for government education. The public school system should be setting the standard for high quality education in Australia.
The reality is that the government currently seems to place greater value on private education, reasoning with the Australian public that the disproportionate level of funding for non-government schools is justifiable with the increase of enrolments to that sector. It’s a win-win situation for the non-government sector, who accept a higher amount of federal funding, while still taking advantage of their anonymity to the government system. For instance, while government schools take all students, regardless of background or circumstance, non-government schools are able to choose who they enroll. Surely if non-government schools are accepting federal funding, then they should also be liable to taking all students. Likewise, while government schools are subject to comprehensive accountability and regulation, non-government schools are answerable only to themselves. In many cases non-government schools do not disclose the amounts of supplementary funding available to them. If they are accepting federal funding, they should they also be liable to the same accountability and regulation that government schools are. In addition, the MySchool website does not accurately reflect the actual incomes of non-government schools when taking supplementary funding into account. If MySchool is to be a legitimate source of information for parents, the public should have access to actual funding amounts for all non-government schools, including full disclosure of private contributions. Issues such as these demonstrate gross inequities which have the capacity to create resentment from those who are adversely affected. Non-government schools appear to get the best of both worlds while the public sector is left struggling to keep up.
To many, this isn’t news. In fact, the divide between public and private education has existed for decades, with both sides of the fence continually coming up with convincing, new arguments to justify their own positions. The truth is that the ageing feud between the two sectors is outdated, silly and quite frankly, getting boring. What they should be putting their energy into is working towards equity in funding for schools. Whether enrolled in a government or non-government school, all students should be able to access high quality, well funded, well rounded education specific to their needs. It should happen in every school, in every state. Instead of the continued inflamed public sentiment over which schools gets what, we need to move forward towards a future where all schools are sufficiently and equally resourced in educating their students to their highest capabilities.
A pivotal stage in that process is surely to address the disparities between funding for government and non-government schools. With Education Minister Peter Garret admitting that the non-government sector is overfunded in early April, the precedent is set to make changes. The current Review of Funding for Schooling provides the federal government with the opportunity to address these inequities and finally create a level playing field between education systems and sectors. We must however ensure that the findings of the review are implemented quickly and not simply lost in the many issues that find their way onto the floor of Parliament House. Australia has the resources to provide its students with one of the highest quality educations in the world, but in order to achieve this we must ensure that all schools have the capacity to deliver; an equal opportunity to educate at the highest level. It’s time to address this issue. It’s time to work towards a better future for all schools.