PRESS RELEASE 405


-         HERE WE GO AGAIN

15 November 2010

There is something very déjà vu in the Victorian Labour Government’s  $200 million pre-election pledge to the private religious school sector  and the speculation concerning  an ongoing State Aid auction with the Coalition.

DOGS have witnessed the power of the religious school interest to prize open the doors of the State and Federal Treasuries every election since 1964. In recent years opposition from the public school leadership and academics has been muted as the neo-liberal ideology had dominated our mainstream media and halls of learning.

There is some evidence of disquiet in both the Fairfax media and the hallowed halls of learning. But no evidence of the courage to say that the funding of private religious education experiment with ‘Needs’ policies introduced by the Fabians of the Labour Party and massaged by the Coalition of the last 50 years has been an abject failure with disastrous results of our public systems of education.   

However, as State elections loom in both New South Wales and Victoria, the Fairfax Press (the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald) appears to have broken ranks with the Murdoch Press to give some oxygen to the cause of public education. While The Australian continues to question the rorts in the Building the Education Revolution and push the voucher system, (10.11.2010) the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald (08.11.2010) have questioned the funding inequities which favour the private religious system.

In Victoria the Brumby government has given dependent and Catholic schools a 40 per cent increase in funding .Under a $199.7 million boost, private school students would receive 25 per cent of the cost of educating a student at a public school from the state government. Teachers from needy non-government schools would also receive $5 million for professional development.

Catholic and independent schools welcomed the historic funding boost, which would see a future Labor government increase funding to $711 million by 2014.

Mr Brumby said Labor would deliver independent and Catholic schools three times the level of funding they received when the ALP came to office. ''This provides a guaranteed funding stream as Labor will establish an ongoing 25 per cent linkage for Catholic and independent schools,'' he said.

So, without questioning the funding figures of the dependent private religious sector, or waiting for the review into a highly contentious funding model, Mr Brumby gives whatever the private religious sector demands. The reaction of the sector was less than gracious: they are programed to keep crying poor and demand more, more more…DOGS quote:

Victorian Independent Education Union general secretary Debra James said the funding commitment put Victoria on par with other states.

''Over a third of Victorian students attend non-government schools, many that operate on the smell of an oily rag,'' she said.

Independent Schools Victoria chief executive Michelle Green was also pleased, but said even with the proposed extra funding, private schools would receive less government support than state schools.

The Australian Education Union appears to be nailing its hopes to the Federal Government’s Funding Review. But the Gonski Committee is stacked outrageously against the public sector and the Terms of Reference refuse to recognise the simple fact that State Aid to the private religious sector ipso facto undermines the public sector.

It is almost amusing to discover Richard Teese from Melbourne University in his recent article in Dissent wringing his hands at the selfishness of a sectarian private sector that refuses to acknowledge the impact its expansion has upon public education. Richard Teese might be naïve to expect otherwise. The sectarian sector has never had any illusions about where they want to be. The Roman Catholic sector in particular, has never accepted the role of the State rather than the Church in the ownership and control of the educational enterprise.

Trevor Cobbold from Save our Schools Canberra, is also shy about raising the ghosts of the State Aid debate or principles of separation of church and state.  Instead he attempts to gain the moral initiative with talk of ‘needs’


The Gonski committee must ensure privilege is not allowed to trump disadvantage in education yet again, writes Trevor Cobbold.

IT IS no exaggeration to say that the future of Australia's education system is in the hands of the Gonski committee, currently reviewing school funding. It is clear that a fundamental change in government funding priorities is required but it remains to be seen whether the Gonski committee, with its unbalanced representation, is up to the task.

The greatest challenge facing Australia's education system is to reduce the large achievement gaps between rich and poor….

The demands on government schools are especially great. They enrol the vast majority of educationally disadvantaged students. About 80 per cent of low-income, indigenous, remote-area and disability students attend government schools, and more than 70 per cent of provincial students do so.

These students comprise a much larger proportion of government school enrolments than in private schools. For example, low-income students comprise 40 per cent of government school enrolments, compared with only 22 per cent of independent school enrolments and 25 per cent in Catholic schools.

Thus, government schools face a much bigger challenge than private schools in dealing with education disadvantage. However, their resources are only 70 per cent of those of independent schools and are similar to Catholic school levels. New figures published by Save Our Schools show that average total expenditure in government schools in 2007-08 was $10,723 a student, compared with $15,147 in independent schools and $10,399 in Catholic schools.

Funding policies over the past decade have given greater priority to supporting privilege in education than to overcoming education disadvantage. The largest increases have gone to the most privileged school sector - independent schools. Government funding for independent schools increased by 112 per cent between 1998-99 and 2007-08 and by 84 per cent for Catholic schools, compared with 67 per cent for government schools.

Many of the most selective private schools in Australia have total expenditure of $20,000-$30,000 a student, or two times to three times more than government schools. Yet they receive $2000-$4000 a student in federal government funding. This is four times to eight times more than the additional $500 a disadvantaged student under the Smarter Schools National Partnership program.

Government funding for many wealthy schools has increased by more than 200 per cent since 2001. For example, it rose by 236 per cent for King's School in Sydney and by 268 per cent for Geelong Grammar, the most expensive private school in Australia. Funding policies are compounding privilege in education. Government schools are being denied the funding they need to provide an adequate education to all their students.

Governments are in effect placing more value on enriching the lives of the privileged. This is indefensible in a society that calls itself a democracy. It is a grave social injustice. It is a waste of talents, skills and resources and curbs productivity growth.

Governments are simply not doing enough to close the achievement gaps. Government schools will receive an additional $266 million a year through the Smarter Schools National Partnership programs for low-SES government schools and literacy and numeracy improvement.

This is a far cry from what is needed. Academic research studies show that the additional expenditure required for low-SES students to achieve at adequate levels is 100 per cent to 150 per cent more than the cost of educating an average student.

On this basis, about $6 billion to $9 billion more a year is needed for government schools to close the gap between low-SES students and the average for all students. Much more is needed to close the gap between low- and high-SES students.

A fundamental change in the funding priorities of federal and state governments is required to transform Australia's high-quality, low-equity school system into a high-quality, high-equity system.

This should be the main task of the Gonski inquiry. However, the committee is compromised by conflicts of interest and private school interests are a majority.

We can only hope that privilege will not trump disadvantage in education yet again.

Some of Cobbald’s figures were used by Kenneth Davidson in his article in the Age November 15, But, relating them specifically to the Victorian situation. He even had the temerity to refer to the lobbying for more public funding by the Roman Catholic bishops.

However, it is a pity that many supporters of public education are still bleating about a failed ‘Needs’ policy, and are reduced to ‘hope’ in a stacked government Funding Review Committee rather than the certainty of confronting the root of the education funding problem in Australia.

Only the DOGS are prepared to spell out the principle of separation of church and state and the demand that private sectarian schools should receive no taxpayer funding whatever.





Listen to the DOGS program

3CR, 855 on the A.M. dial

12 Noon Saturdays