AUSTRALIAN COUNCIL FOR THE DEFENCE OF GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS
PRESS RELEASE 411
REVIEW OF FUNDING FOR SCHOOLING:
THE EMERGING ISSUES PAPER AND VOUCHERS?
The Review of Funding for Schooling has published an Emerging Issues Paper IN LATE December – just before the Christmas break. Submissions are due in March 2011, and the DOGS will be making an extended critique of it. However, here are some of our initial thoughts on the Paper.
The refusal to come to terms with educational institutions which have diametrically opposed values in relation to ‘equity’ means that the report offers many ‘problems’ but few answers.
DOGS note that, as to be expected with its limited terms of reference and choice of personnel, there is much hoo-hah about equity and ‘needs’. There is also concern about the persistent low achievement evident in the proportion of students in the bottom proficiency bands and the decline in reading performance measured between 2000 and 2009. (the PISA results).
The report assumes that there is no opposition to the public funding of private sectarian education in Australia. They did not interview the DOGS. Even if they did not wish to meet with us, they could have heard us on our 3CR radio program or read our Press Release on the website.
Comparison with Karmel Committee Report of 1973.
As with the Karmel Committee in 1973,
· there is no biting of the essential State Aid bullet – the elephant in the room of the Labor Party.
· There is no comparison of underlying values of systems and institutions.
· There is no comparison of public and private or religious schools with their diametrically opposed values. Quite the contrary. So, surprise, surprise, the document is full of contradictions. There are various crucial paragraphs where diametrically opposed positions are tabulated then presented as ‘not necessarily inconsistent.’
· The citizen/taxpayer is expected to believe there are no opposing interests, no inconsistencies- because the panel tells us so.
Unlike the Karmel Committee Report of `1973
· The report has no philosophical, historical or even sociological basis. It is mainly a record of issues raised by representatives of public and private school interests through a series of selective consultations.
· There is a basic assumption that government and non-government schools are of equal significance for the national good. If anything, preference is given to the índependent’ paradigm.
· There is absolutely no reference to the simple fact that you cannot have equity in education if you give preferential public funding, indeed any public funding to systems of schools which by their very nature are private, exclusive, selecting pupils on the basis of religion, ethnicity, ability to pay and geographic location.
What the Emerging Issues Paper Fails to Mention
· There is no recognition that the public system is the only system which can lay any claim to espousing the value of equity in education. It is the only one which treats children as equal, the one which open to all children regardless of their religion, ethnicity, ability to pay or geographic location. And that is the public system.
· On the simple facts and figures of public subsidization of the private sectarian sector the silence on the figures relating to the indirect funding of these ‘charitable’ institutions is deafening.
· There is passing reference only to the economic madness of duplication many times over of public facilities by sectarian institutions - at public expense, and the running down and out of public ‘choices’ in the process.
· The issue of ‘residualisation’ of the public system is lost in verbiage. The word ‘residualisation’ is re-defined to suit the private sector.
· There is absolutely no reference to the accountability scandals and lack of transparency where sectarian schools have had ghost pupils, and ghost teachers. Even the federal Auditor General was forced to expose the inadequacies inherent in public funding of powerful private religious institutions in 2008-9.
· There is no discussion of the rorting of the ‘needs’ policy by the Catholic system. This has been exposed by the DOGS over the last forty years in newspaper advertisements.
· Lack of accountability and transparency in the sectarian sector is conveniently ignored as the so-called independent system comes up smelling like roses in a free market ideology. For the Review of Funding for Schooling panel, as for Karmel, only anaesthetised, ‘presentist’ prose is acceptable.
What the Panel has been Forced to Note:
Nevertheless, the panel has been forced by thorough research of public School representatives like Trevor Cobbold to admit that all is not well. The present system of education funding ‘is complex’. They noted on p. 6 that
Some were of the view that the current funding arrangements were not balanced across the sectors, contributing to a recent drift in enrolment numbers from the government school sector to the non-government school sector.
In the next sentence however, they noted support for the current arrangements which provide certainty of funding and the relative generosity of private funding tied to government school costs from ‘others’.
A Voucher System the Answer ?
According to the Financial Review of Friday 17 December,
‘A voucher system to guarantee each student in non-government schools a minimum level of funding with extra support for those with special needs, is being considered by the federal government’s review of education funding.’
What leads the reporter to this conclusion?
There are two excerpts from the report which supporters of public education should examine carefully. These quotes assume that the current levels of public funding of a predatory private sector will be quarantined and the residualisation or privatisation of public education continue apace. DOGS quote from pp. 19-20 and 26.
The first quote deals with what the Financial Review quoted above noted as a ‘voucher system’ . This seems to represent a replacement for the SES funding model. There is some uncertainty in the context as to whether this includes public as well as sectarian schools. The second quote refers to a ‘portable funding’ voucher system for children with disabilities, similar to that promoted by Mr. Abbott before the last federal election.
Quote Number One pp. 19 - 20:
‘…there was broad support for the consideration of alternative funding arrangements based on a student’s educational needs, regardless of the type of school they attend…Based on the above views, the panel is of the view that there is clearly a need to look further at a range of different funding options to see whether they might be viable alternatives which could complement or improve on existing funding arrangements. This could involve looking at, for example, approaches that would specific a common funding amount for all students, with additional support attached to students with greater educational needs. This type of approach was put forward as a way of better targeting funding to schools and within schools to support students. The panel would welcome comments on this issue.’
‘Portable Funding’ for Students with Disability
The panel encountered a variety of views on potential models for portable funding for students with disability. Few supported a ‘pure’ voucher model, but many argued for a model that shared characteristics of a ‘ voucher’ so that all funding, or at least a proportion, should follow students with special needs of a student with disability when they move schools.
So, there you have it. The Review of Funding for Schooling is a blueprint for ‘more of the same,’ namely public funding of a private sector in the jungle of the parental choice market place, with a few crocodile tears for the children left behind and ‘ vouchers’ for parents to shop around to find a sectarian school that might accept their child.
Meanwhile, the system that could solve all the social and economic problems of our fragile democracy, the public system which is accessible to all children, will once again be left to pick up a few crumbs from the table of a religious system of private schools riding high on the neo-liberal theology of ‘choice’ and middle class welfare at all costs.
Vouchers: Another American Failure Imposed on Australian Education:
Vouchers have failed in America again and again. However, it should be noted that this has largely been because an organisation known as Americans for Separation of Church and State has successfully challenged them in the Supreme Court. Given the fate of the DOGS case in 1981, it is doubtful whether the same protection of the public system will be offered by the Australian High Court.
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