01 April 2016
by Kaye Lee

Don’t blame me

Malcolm Turnbull wants to take us back to pre-war days by allowing the states to collect income tax because he is sick of “finger pointing”. He wants them to take the blame and bear the consequences for the cuts his government has made to hospital and school funding.

Today he has indicated that he wants the Federal government to only fund private schools and leave the states to fund public education.

Prior to 1972, private schools in Australia did not receive any government funding at all. In fact, Australia is one of the very few countries in the OECD that publicly funds private schools.

We also have one of the most privatised school systems in the OECD with more than 40% of Australian secondary children now attending private schools – either so-called independent or religious schools.

Overseas, most private schools rely on student tuition fees, fundraising, donations or other private “non-government” sources of revenue: very few receive government (taxpayer) funding. For example, in the United States, private schools are mostly religiously affiliated and receive no direct government funding.

“Elite” schools in the United Kingdom – referred to as “public” schools – primarily cater to the upper classes, and similarly operate without any government financial assistance.

In Chile, new laws ban profit making, tuition fees and selective admissions practices in all private schools that receive funding from the Chilean Government.

A report released by the Productivity Commission in 2015 showed that government funding increases between 2008-09 and 2012-13 massively favoured private schools over public schools.

Funding for private schools in Victoria, for example, increased by 18.5% per student, or eight times that of public schools. Across Australia, the dollar increase for private schools was nearly five times that for public schools. The average increase for private schools was A$1,181 per student compared to only A$247 for public schools.

Each private school pupil now receives, on average, a non-means-tested public subsidy of over A$8000 per year. In addition, pupils with disabilities in public schools receive up to A$12,000 of extra support while those in some private schools get more than A$30,000.

But does this lead to better academic outcomes?

An analysis of NAPLAN results reported:

The often-presumed better results of private schools are a myth. Public schools are the equal of private schools. Public, Catholic and Independent schools with a similar socio-economic composition have very similar results.

Likewise, a recent study showed public schools outperforming their private rivals in the HSC when comparing students from similar backgrounds.

The “extraordinary facilities” enjoyed by many private school students – made possible through government funding – exist at the expense of public schools that struggle to provide the essentials. Senior education lecturer at Monash University, David Zyngier, says there is a correlation between the decline in Australia’s PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) performance and the growth of state and federal funding for private schools.

The Gonski Review recommended a funding scheme based on need, regardless of whether students attended public, independent or Catholic schools but, as is typical of this government, they could not possibly honour an agreement made by a Labor government regardless of its obvious merit and despite their bipartisan support prior to the election and unambiguous promise of “no cuts to education”.