24 February 2011

Number crunchers in on the side of public education have been given limited media coverage in recent months by the Fairfax Press. The poverty of public school infrastructure and resources has been thrown into stark relief by the outrageous wealth of the heavily subsidised private sector. The AEU, and the Save Our Schools organisation with Trevor Cobbold as its front line campaigner should be congratulated for opening the rag bag of public funding of private contractor scandals. For this is what public funding of the sectarian education interest is: the contracting out of the basic human rights of Australian children so that sectarian interests can duplicate public facilities, many times over, dividing children and undermining both the public system and the common good.

The Age of Monday February 21, p.15   was bold enough to question public funding of private schools, with the heading: Can we Afford to Continue Funding Private Schools?  None of the commentators, however, took a No-State Aid stance. They cried foul on the equity issue. Michelle Green, the chief executive of Independent Schools Victoria complained that arguments based on political philosophy or personal belief systems only cloud the issues!’

Does she disagree with the stance taken by the Catholic Bishops and other religious interests for the last two hundred years? After all, those with strident belief systems are responsible for current funding levels of the sectarian schools for which she is the apologist.

Anna Patty in the Sydney Morning Herald February 14, p. revealed that funding for many of the richest schools in NSW doubled over the past decade and listed the figures from the Senate Estimates 2010 from Answers to Questions on Notice, 2010.  Some sectarian operators are open about their assets and income and, as corporations, lodge returns with ASIC. Cranbrook for example disclosed surpluses of up to $8.4 million while receiving a federal subsidy of $3.5 million. Others cry ‘commercial in confidence’ or muddy the waters. The MySchool website, for example is incomplete. It will not reveal their assets and endowments, let alone their indirect grants and taxation exemptions. 

Since the Catholic Education Commissions have become incorporated, it is time that taxpayers were informed of the total assets and income of the international corporation known as the Catholic Church. They could also be provided with economic analysis based on the extraordinary level of duplication of public facilities by the private sector together with the dangers of residualisation of the former. Then citizen/taxpayers could properly evaluate the current argument that sectarian schools are more efficient than the public sector and ‘give value for money’.

Citizen/Taxpayers are being bombarded with statistical rather than ideological conflict though, the private sector are repeating the mantra of ‘parental choice’ (substitute ‘parental insecurities’) rather than ‘pupil opportunity’. When confronted with the stark reality that, despite almost half a century and billions of dollars  of ‘Needs’ funding later, the vast majority of poor Catholic children are enrolled in the public sector, that church points to its success with the insecure middle class and claims efficiency of the private over public enterprise.

The PISA results are a reality check. In 2011 as in 1844, the fruit of a sectarian, denominational system of education is the neglect of the majority of children at the expense of providing the minority with peculiar beliefs and a ticket to the good job.

Mr. Abbott and the Murdoch Press have made much of the rorting of the Building the Education Revolution. But it is not governments wasting public money that we should be worried about. We should be worried about the private sector maximising its privileges at the expense of the government of the day, the long suffering taxpayer and the majority of our children.

The privatisation, deregulation and globalisation mania that many governments have embraced has been proven time and again to be a costly mistake. Tony Abbott, Michelle Green, and the Catholic Education Office think the sectarian sector does it better than the public sector. But taxpayers only have to look at the poor returns taxpayers receive when public work is subcontracted to the private sector to get their reality check.

It is time government stopped subcontracting and outsourcing the opportunities of Australian children to the sectarian sector. Citizens and taxpayers have been taken to the cleaners time and again. Proper accountability for expenditure of public money by the private sector is a joke. (See DOGS Press Releases on Ghost Pupils, Ghost Teachers etc. )



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