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The Forum > Article Comments > Getting school funding right > Comments

Getting school funding right : Comments

By Andrew Leigh, published 2/4/2008

Of all the policy debates in Australia, school funding is perhaps the feistiest. If you have children at school, you’re an instant expert.

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Thanks Andrew.

The principles themselves seem unobjectionable, although they may not go far enough, and they accept (or seem) to the status quo to some extent.

Thus Andrew talks in terms of better schools. I wonder why he and others judge some schools as better and some as not, and what criteria they use.

I agree we as a society need to get education and its funding (both in terms of distribution and level) right. I am just not clear why the state should support private education. I also don't think we provide enough overall to education as a society.
Posted by Passy, Wednesday, 2 April 2008 10:44:28 AM
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I agree with Passy that Andrew's principles look okay but I would contend that some recognition of the status quo is appropriate. Governments in Australia have made it compulsory for parents to school their children and provide parents with schools or alternative funding (in the case of one third of parents) for that purpose.

That is a very important point to note, Passy: in the non-government schooling sector, governments fund parents to school their children. Governments do not in fact fund private schools (as evidenced by the fact that funding follows the students). Parents use the financial contribution towards the cost of schooling provided to them by governments to choose and support the type of schooling they want for their children.

A couple of points in Andrew's article require clarification. So-called 'high-end private schools' do not 'offer a $5,000 discount to poor parents' simply because, as he mentions earlier, they get a maximum of $1300 for those students - the funding is provided on the raw SES score of the entire school population, not on the scores of individual children (that would be an improvement if it could be achieved!) However, many non-government schools provide significant scholarships to enable children from poorer families to attend their schools. Not every child in a private school is a full fee-paying student, by any stretch of the imagination.

Also, the contention in the article that, "At present, the federal government allocates billions of dollars to private schools, but asks little in return", is nonsense. Accountability requirements are significantly onerous for one non-government school leader to have been moved to replace the 'Principal' sign on his door with one that reads "Compliance Clerk".
Posted by Ian D, Wednesday, 2 April 2008 12:20:38 PM
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Good post Ian D.

Passy, so-called 'private' education actually refers to the fact that a non-govt organisation runs/operates the school, it's like comparing a private enterprise with a 'government' owned enterprise. Private schools are more correctly called non-government schools as they are not private in any other sense other than their owner/operate is not a government entity. As they educate members of the public (who are these students if not the Australian public?) it is absolutely valid that they receive a certain minimum level of government funding per student, the amount being linked to the socio-economic status of that school's community.

Also, very few non-government schools have enrolment restrictions with the vast majority enrolling all-comers (despite popular belief to the contrary among government school advocates).

These are reasons why the state supports non-government school education.

Our education system was founded on non-government schools in the 18th century (through the Catholic and Protestant churches) and the state only got involved in education provision in the late 19th century. Non-govt schools are an integral and vital part of our education system and always have been.

And I agree, funding for education should only ever go up in real terms and government schools have been dudded by their (state govt) owners in this respect. This would help towards the goal of ensuring that all schools can offer the best quality of education possible - clearly there are 'better' schools and not so good ones, largely related to resources and teacher quality but that is another discussion on its own.
Posted by Malcs, Wednesday, 2 April 2008 1:32:56 PM
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Andrew overlooks the fact that high end schools use exclusivity as part of their marketing appeal. Fees are not subsidised for less wealthy parents but used to create bigger and better facilities allowing them to compete against other high end schools. With demographics producing fewer school aged children-working against all schools the high fee paying schools are desperate to look appealing-high cost advertising very much the norm in Melb. Of course the 11 years of Liberal federal govt has helped their cause by undermining state education at all levels. High fee schools are now made up of a large proportion of families with quite modest incomes desperately trying to cover ever increasing fees.
Posted by pdev, Wednesday, 2 April 2008 2:53:05 PM
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I’m not convinced that Andrew Leigh has thought through all his policy solutions, because some of them are in conflict with each other.

He says “the wellbeing of children is more important than anything else” (including adults) ….yet supports a system in which the wellbeing of some kids will be supported and enhanced far more than others.

He does this by tacitly accepting the role of private spending in education. Yet our mix of unregulated public and private funding seems to be supporting choices of adults, rather than the needs of all kids for even comparable access to the best wellbeing and opportunities in life.

I guess we’ll always believe, as he does, that parents should be allowed to support their kids’ education….but we also need to rethink what should be the role of government when such support creates unsustainable chasms in the opportunities for kids. At the moment governments seem to widen the gaps.

Andrew’s other problem is his economist’s infatuation with outputs – he devotes considerable time in his research to measuring the measurable…and seemingly making the mistake of only valuing the measurable. Most of the outputs of schools can’t be boiled down to numbers.

And Malcs, check your history: the state “got involved” in education because the churches couldn’t and wouldn’t educate the whole community. Funny about that; not much has changed. Interesting that you also say that funding for education “should only ever go up”. The problem, as indicated by pdev, is that resourcing standards for schools are set by high fee schools which combine their public and private funding to do over each other and everyone else. State-funded systems can’t compete in this race….and of course much of the resource competition isn’t about education at all.
Posted by bunyip, Thursday, 3 April 2008 6:30:33 AM
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I absolutely agree that “the wellbeing of children is more important than anything else”, and to that end priority should be given to funding all public schools to provide a decent level of resources and facilities.

I work part time at our local public school, but also have connections with some of the private schools in out area, and I fail to see why the public school should still have demountable buildings covered in tarps (since storms last June) while a nearby private primary school boasts that it repaints its classrooms annually (and quite unnecessarily).

I have no objection at all to private schools, being a past student and current parent, but the increasing squallor of the public system is grossly unfair to the children there.
Posted by Candide, Thursday, 3 April 2008 2:37:39 PM
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