19 April 2010

On 15 April, the Federal Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, addressed the Sydney Institute. The topic of her address was A future fair for all: School funding in Australia. For the full text of her speech see the website of the Australian Principles Association.

She began her speech by the usual Labor Party expression of hope that the question of school funding would no longer be used to divide the Australian community, to pit school against school and school system against school system.

She went on to say that she wishes to seek a constructive and open approach to the questions of school funding.

How does she expect to reconcile the irreconcilable? How can you talk about fairness when the funding system is unfair?  How Gillard will continue the current funding arrangements which blatantly favour the private sector, giving in to all their demands, is a mystery, especially when she promises that no private school will be ‘worse off’. How can she even dream of a community which is undivided when sectarian schools are encouraged to divide children on the basis of class, creed and culture at taxpayer’s expense?

Not unsurprisingly, Julia Gillard is falling back on the time-honored Labor methods invented by Beazley and Whitlam in 1973 when taxpayer funding of religious schools was legitimated by the ‘needs’ policy. Those with any memory will recall how this quickly transmuted into the ‘greeds’ policy. The labor Party compromise entails consultation and collaboration where the public sector always loses out to aggressive religious interests.  It is unlikely that any strong advocate of public education who opposes taxpayer funding of sectarian schools will be invited to influence Gillard’s committees. Although she is promising ‘stakeholder’ input into the terms of reference, Gillard has already pre-empted these with a series of ‘fundamental questions’.

She said :

"… As a first step, I intend to consult with stakeholders about the terms of reference for the review.

The terms of reference should go to the most fundamental questions. 

·                                What is the fundamental entitlement needed to provide a child with a high quality education?

·                                How do we best cater for the needs of and support students with disability, indigenous students and students at risk to ensure all students have access to a high quality education?

·                                What are the different funding models used overseas and how do these link to outcomes and quality in their respective education systems?

·                                What does the My School website tell us about the relationship between resources and outcomes for similar students?

By the end of this month I will release a discussion paper on school funding building on these fundamental questions.  At the same time I will release draft terms of reference for the funding review for consultation. 

I anticipate that these consultations will conclude in May and the details of the terms of reference of the review itself will be announced based on this feedback.

Gillard rushed to appease the wealthy members of sectarian education sector before they bared their political teeth. She said that the review was not about taking money away from schools. Even if enrolments change and students move in and out of schools, no school will lose a dollar of funding in the sense that their school budget per student will not reduce in dollar terms. She concluded:  

I recognise that the debate about different options should be spirited – I welcome that. But spirited and open exchange and consideration is not the same as seeking to close off debate. We will not allow our opponents to misrepresent the nature of this review, and we will seek community support for a process which is open, thorough and balanced. I urge Australians not to see threats from this review but opportunities. And I ask the whole Australian community to participate in this most important debate about our nation’s future.

Reaction of the Sectarian School Interest

Julia Gillard’s attempts to appease the sectarian sector were to no avail. Two days later on April 17, 2010, The media ( The Age, 17 April 2010) reported that the director of Catholic Education in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, Stephen Elder, said parents and schools would not be reassured by Ms Gillard's statements because she had not guaranteed to maintain funding in real terms. He claimed;

The Deputy Prime Minister's proposal means that, after 2012, Catholic schools in Victoria may receive no funding to keep pace with increasing costs.

Independent Schools Victoria chief executive Michelle Green welcomed Ms Gillard's assurance that the review was not about taking money away from schools. But she added: We would be concerned if funding is frozen indefinitely at current levels.

If you've got education costs (rising) at about 5 per cent a year, and you've got your major source of funding from the government held at a particular level, then you will have difficulty, and someone's going to have to make up the difference and we believe that parents shouldn't have to make up that difference.

Ms Green expressed concern about Ms Gillard's statement that the review would have to examine the funding of all schools from all sources.

Independent schools should not be singled out from government schools because they receive after-tax contributions from parents and others in their schools communities, she said.

So, the Catholic sector want to continue the current open chequebook and misleading statistics about public school costs which ignore the incremental costs incurred by the public sector. And the dependent schools (lets call the independent schools for what they really are) are sensitive about raising school fees, (tell that to the poor aspirational parents who have debt collectors chasing their houses) and taxation minimisation schemes enjoyed by wealthy private school parents.

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said Labor could not be trusted to maintain private school funding. They don't like private education, he told Channel Nine. If they're re-elected, as sure as night follows day, they will try to cut private school funding.

The State Aid auction is starting well before the 2010 federal election and, as usual, the major beneficiary, the Catholic system, has taken the front line.

AEU Welcomes Funding Review

The Australian Education Union took a positive line on the Federal Government’s move to initiate a review of schools funding. AEU Federal President, Angelo Gavrielatos said the review represents one of the most important chapters in the history of schools funding in Australia. The President, Angelo Gavrielatos made a number of interesting statements :


This review will be about the rights of Australian families and the obligation of governments.


It is the right of every family to have access to a well resourced, high quality public school in their local community.


That means sufficient qualified teachers and staff to meet the needs of students, a broad curriculum of the highest quality and a safe, modern 21st century learning environment.


Only by properly funding our public schools can we guarantee every child has the opportunity to fulfil their potential.


A strong and vibrant system of public education is vital not only to families and local

communities but also to Australia’s future


It remains the key to a strong economy, a skilled workforce and a cohesive society.


A new funding system should ensure that the Federal Government meets its

primary obligation to adequately and appropriately fund public schools.


True equity can only exist when government schools set the standard for high

quality education.


All the above statements are useful motherhood statements for a starting point in Terms of Reference for the Gillard Education Funding Review. But none of them deals with the fundamental reality that you cannot have a vibrant public education system for a strong economy, skilled workforce and cohesive society when taxpayer funds are going out a leaky sieve into a sectarian system which divides children on the basis of class, creed and culture.





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