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Labor MP: maintain public funding to high-fee private schools

By TomGreenwell - 17 March 2011 32

andrew leigh

Recently elected Labor MP, Andrew Leigh, has declared his support for maintaining current levels of Commonwealth Government funding to high-fee private schools. In response to repeated questions from members of the public at a ‘community education forum’ on Wednesday night, the former ANU economist insisted that government support for extreme high-fee private schools is a matter of fairness.

The Government’s My School web site indicates that Sydney Grammar has an income of $30,000 per student per year. Public schools in Leigh’s electorate typically have about a third of this amount to spend on their students despite the kids coming from significantly less privileged backgrounds than those at the Sydney private school. Leigh made it clear he does not believe that government funding in excess of $3000 a year per student to Sydney Grammar should be reallocated to schools on his watch like The Charnwood-Dunlop School and The Amaroo School.

Leigh initially defended the largesse in terms of the money private school students save the public purse. When it was pointed out to him that it is unlikely that parents who are prepared to lash out $27,000 a year on their child’s education are going to be less inclined to do so for the lack of $3000 government dollars annually, Leigh shifted ground.

sydney grammar

[Sydney Grammar’s income, 2009 on http://www.myschool.edu.au/ ]

Leigh said it was a matter of fairness that all schools – regardless of fees charged – receive public funding. To support this view the MP used the analogy of publicly-funded roads in Vaucluse. For Leigh, as we are prepared to publicly fund roads for all, so we should publicly fund private schools. Readers will immediately notice how poorly chosen this analogy was. The appropriate analogy would be public funding of private roads in Vaucluse – ones that the majority of Australians were prohibited from using. We, of course, do not do this because it’s patently unfair. Leigh’s analogy would be useful in support of arguments for providing free public education to all Australians, even wealthy ones. But the analogy does nothing to justify the local member’s defense of Commonwealth Government funding of Sydney Grammar.

What does Andrew Leigh mean when he talks about equity?

Leigh’s position is particularly surprising given his stated commitment to equity and his rhetorical championing of the role of education in fighting poverty. Leigh has publicly stated

“One of the roles of government is to recognise that for many people, especially kids born into poor families, there’s a clear role for governments to spend resources to make sure we have equal opportunities across society… that the lottery of life as to where you start doesn’t determine where you end up.”

It’s difficult to know what Leigh means by a governmental role in equalising opportunity when he supports government funding that exacerbates rather than ameliorates resource disparities in education.

Leigh: public funding, no strings attached

Others in attendance at Leigh’s community forum, held at the Gungahlin Lakes Club, asked about public obligations in return for public funding. As Tony Moore commented in The Australian recently;

“Governments… have been strangely loath to demand their subsidised private providers in return meet community obligations akin to the obligations that government schools must meet.”

In this regard, Leigh was no exception. He did not respond to the invitation to specify what governments might expect from private schools in return for public funds (expanded scholarship schemes? proportionate percentage of disadvantaged students? reduced fees?) other than to express his opposition to tying funding to fees.

Leigh’s (qualified) criticism of over-funding

Leigh did express in-principle opposition to funding in excess of what the SES formula would entitle schools to. He specifically accepted that the massive over-funding of Burgmann Anglican College should cease.

However, even here, Leigh made significant qualifications. Leigh argued that over-funded schools like Burgmann, Daramalan College and Radford College should have their funds frozen rather than reduced. He rejected the idea of a 2-3 year transition period after an announcement. Bear in mind, the Labor Government have committed to maintaining the Howard funding arrangements until the end of 2013, seven years from Kevin Rudd’s election. Then – if they’re still in office – the only weapon Leigh and the Gillard Government would wield in the name of fairness is inflation.

Leigh takes time out to misrepresent the AEU

In championing the Government’s education agenda, Leigh represented the Australian Education Union (AEU) and its nearly 200,000 members as resisting transparency. He went on to welcome the fact that the AEU had responded to My School 2.0 by calling for more information, not less. In fact, the AEU has never called for ‘less information’ or less transparency – they attacked a web site that was inaccurate and inadequate. The Union has lobbied for accurate financial information, use of school enrolment data to more accurately build a picture of student populations and mechanisms to prevent crude and harmful league tables – the very improvements which have begun to be made in the new version of the web site.

kate lundy

Senator Kate Lundy appeared to participate in this misrepresentation. I know first-hand Lundy is acutely aware of the AEU’s actual objections. At a pre-election meeting of the ACT AEU branch Lundy expressed a great deal of sympathy for the arguments made by union members against My School as it was. When I spoke to Lundy after the Leigh forum she distanced herself from a representation of teachers as anti-transparency. I did not get a chance to get any clarification from Leigh.

In conclusion – hmmm

Leigh wins points for hosting the forum at all and choosing to focus on education. However, it was disappointing that his answers occasionally involved attacking straw men. In response to questioning about funding of extreme high-fee private schools, Leigh’s strategy was to attack the idea – that nobody had proposed – of abolishing all funding to all private schools. In face of comments that public schools do a disproportionate burden of the ‘heavy lifting’, Leigh attacked the idea – that nobody had proposed – that all public school students are worse off than all private school students. This approach was unfortunate because it reduced the quality of the exchange. More fundamentally, it is concerning that a Labor member in a Labor town in front of an almost wholly pro-public education audience, is so reluctant to acknowledge the basic inequity of current funding arrangements. It does not bode well for the prospect of the Gillard Government delivering meaningful change.

What’s Your opinion?


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32 Responses to
Labor MP: maintain public funding to high-fee private schools
1
ainsliebraddon 11:15 am
17 Mar 11
#

What this post fails to take into account is the amount of state and territory funding the schools receive.
 
For example, The King’s School receives, per student, $2953 from the Australian Government and $961 from the NSW Government. This is a total government funding of $3914 per student.
 
Canberra High School in Macquarie receives, per student, $1520 from the Australian Government and $10652 from the ACT Government. This is a total government funding of $12172 per student.
 
If you consider the total government funding then the figures don’t seem so unfair after all.

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2
aidan 2:50 pm
17 Mar 11
#

ainsliebraddon said :

If you consider the total government funding then the figures don’t seem so unfair after all.

And so the public discourse has been so thoroughly distorted that this seems sort of reasonable. That it would be unfair to withhold Government funds from a school like King’s which would function perfectly well without it.

Bizarre.

The issue is not fairness, it is equity. Millionaires do not get family tax benefit (well they’re not supposed to) because they don’t need it. For the same reason King’s school should not get Government money. It simply doesn’t need it.

Low-fee religious schools are a different kettle of fish. They deserve funding, but they also shouldn’t undermine the public system. The fees the Catholic schools charge end up creating a “pseudo-private” school system which is attractive to non-Catholic parents (they make up 23% of enrolments) and excludes poor Catholics (only 19% of Catholic students from families in the lowest third of family income distribution attend attend Catholic schools).

The currently low-fee religious schools should be fully funded by the state (i.e. no fees), with the proviso that they have a limit on the number of students they enrol who are not members of their religion. This is how it is done in NZ and it seems to work well.

Leigh is toeing the party line because they are afraid of an almighty scare campaign, which is exactly what happened when Latham pointed out the basic inequity of the funding system.

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3
Clown Killer 3:13 pm
17 Mar 11
#

Yawn. Another whiny bog-paper missive on the whole ‘unfairness’ of reality.

Let’s look at it another way. The Commonwealth Government buys a right to control what gets taught in schools, just like it buys a seat at the table for healthcare, tertiary education etc. etc. there’s a condition placed on the money – that by accepting it, the school also accepts that the Government will require it to teach in a particular way – and if it can keep a lid on the performance of private schools by forcing them to teach the lowest common denominator curriculum, then it won’t draw too much attention to the failure of the public system.

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4
aidan 3:27 pm
17 Mar 11
#

Clown Killer said :

Yawn. Another whiny bog-paper missive on the whole ‘unfairness’ of reality.

Yawn. Another faux-libertarian endorsing middle class welfare.

Clown Killer said :

if it can keep a lid on the performance of private schools by forcing them to teach the lowest common denominator curriculum, then it won’t draw too much attention to the failure of the public system.

Woah! Tinfoil hat alert!

Let me guess … it was the communists who put them up to it? Or the feminists? Or maybe both, influenced by Government agents from Roswell?

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5
shadow boxer 3:34 pm
17 Mar 11
#

If you increase the fees at my kids mid level private school by anything over 10% I (like most Canberra public servants sacrificing life style for their kids greater good) will be forced to take them out.

They will get a worse education, the taxpayer will have to pay twice as much for them to get it and the public schools will be worse off as they now have to find the money for my kids.

Seems a lose-lose and Barr as the bloke paying the bills knows it. He’s just trying to placate a rabid teachers union.

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6
aidan 3:51 pm
17 Mar 11
#

shadow boxer said :

If you increase the fees at my kids mid level private school by anything over 10% I (like most Canberra public servants sacrificing life style for their kids greater good) will be forced to take them out.

You really value that education. Seriously. An extra, what, $500/year? $1000?

shadow boxer said :

They will get a worse education

Bulls***. What you’re buying from the private school is the hope that the poorly behaved kid down the road won’t be able to afford your school, or will get kicked out if they act up. Private schools get the same outcomes, they just preselect for the higher achieving students.

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7
georgesgenitals 4:05 pm
17 Mar 11
#

aidan said :

Bulls***. What you’re buying from the private school is the hope that the poorly behaved kid down the road won’t be able to afford your school, or will get kicked out if they act up. Private schools get the same outcomes, they just preselect for the higher achieving students.

Translation: kids who behave decently and don’t want to destroy things get to learn in an environment with substantially less interruption from idiots-in-training who want to cause trouble and destroy everything in sight.

Sounds OK to me.

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8
shadow boxer 4:05 pm
17 Mar 11
#

aidan said :

shadow boxer said :

If you increase the fees at my kids mid level private school by anything over 10% I (like most Canberra public servants sacrificing life style for their kids greater good) will be forced to take them out.

You really value that education. Seriously. An extra, what, $500/year? $1000?

I currently pay about $20,000 a year or about 20% of my gross income, its probably fair to say I value my kids education, how much do you pay ?

shadow boxer said :

They will get a worse education

Bulls***. What you’re buying from the private school is the hope that the poorly behaved kid down the road won’t be able to afford your school, or will get kicked out if they act up. Private schools get the same outcomes, they just preselect for the higher achieving students.

Emotional rubbish. Feel free to address the economic facts I stated when you are ready.

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9
breda 4:12 pm
17 Mar 11
#

For example, The King’s School receives, per student, $2953 from the Australian Government and $961 from the NSW Government. This is a total government funding of $3914 per student.

Canberra High School in Macquarie receives, per student, $1520 from the Australian Government and $10652 from the ACT Government. This is a total government funding of $12172 per student.

If you consider the total government funding then the figures don’t seem so unfair after all.
————————————————————————————–
First, have a look at a map of the school campus, which is larger than any government school in the Sydney metro area by many multiples, and worth hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more:

http://www.kings.edu.au/about/documents/locationSuburbBig.pdf

Interestingly, members of the public cannot find out about the magnificent educational, sporting and cultural facilities from the public website. You need to be approved to enter the school’s intranet. I wonder why that might be? Just because taxpayers are providing subsidies surely doesn’t mean that the hoi polloi have a right to know what they are paying for?

Fortunately, they are not so shy about their fees:

http://www.kings.edu.au/financial/documents/Tuitiion_Boarding_Fees.pdf

$13k a year for kindergarten. $24k plus for entry level high school. Plus a whole bunch of extra fees for everything from school lunches to ‘technology’.

With prices like these, I think that a few grand per student from the taxpayer is just icing on the cake. But, it might be very useful to nearby public schools which lack rich benefactors and parents, and put pupils in rooms that King’s gardener would disdain to live in.

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10
Clown Killer 4:22 pm
17 Mar 11
#

“Another faux-libertarian endorsing middle class welfare”

Sorry to burst your bubble there Aidan, but under Australia’s tax system it’s simply not possible to have such a thing as middle class welfare – despite how much the hair-shirt brigade and their watermelon hangers on would like to have the rest of us believe. The fact that all tax payers are taxed on a scale that reflects their ability to contribute by definition means that all tax payers should be entitled to all of the benefits. Personally, I’d love to move to a flat tax rate and relinquish my claim to the sorts of services that the pinko’s seem to think should only be made available to the allegedly struggling, mostly stupid and overly fecund ‘working classes’.

“Woah! Tinfoil hat alert!”

How so Aiden? Are you suggesting that having a direct say in the curriculum and how schools teach it is not a key reason for the Commonwealth giving money to schools? Do you think that if private schools were able to teach whatever and however they wanted there really wouldn’t be a yawning chasm in the difference between a public and private education? Really?

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11
shadow boxer 4:26 pm
17 Mar 11
#

breda said :

For example, The King’s School receives, per student, $2953 from the Australian Government and $961 from the NSW Government. This is a total government funding of $3914 per student.

Canberra High School in Macquarie receives, per student, $1520 from the Australian Government and $10652 from the ACT Government. This is a total government funding of $12172 per student.

If you consider the total government funding then the figures don’t seem so unfair after all.
————————————————————————————–
First, have a look at a map of the school campus, which is larger than any government school in the Sydney metro area by many multiples, and worth hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more:

http://www.kings.edu.au/about/documents/locationSuburbBig.pdf

Interestingly, members of the public cannot find out about the magnificent educational, sporting and cultural facilities from the public website. You need to be approved to enter the school’s intranet. I wonder why that might be? Just because taxpayers are providing subsidies surely doesn’t mean that the hoi polloi have a right to know what they are paying for?

Fortunately, they are not so shy about their fees:

http://www.kings.edu.au/financial/documents/Tuitiion_Boarding_Fees.pdf

$13k a year for kindergarten. $24k plus for entry level high school. Plus a whole bunch of extra fees for everything from school lunches to ‘technology’.

With prices like these, I think that a few grand per student from the taxpayer is just icing on the cake. But, it might be very useful to nearby public schools which lack rich benefactors and parents, and put pupils in rooms that King’s gardener would disdain to live in.

There is only one Kingsd school and nothing like that in Canberra. Perhaps a few grand from the public school parents that can afford it would probably produce 1000 times the money.

But wait, we can’t do that, public school parents don’t need to pay when we can just claw it off those that care.

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12
neanderthalsis 4:31 pm
17 Mar 11
#

aidan said :

ainsliebraddon said :

Rant of a Freirian ideologue …

The simple truth is that public education has become little more than a childcare for underperforming and misbehaving children.

Many Teachers spend the bulk of their time on classroom management issues rather than any actual teaching. The problem children become the classroom focus, the more intelligent students and even the mediocre performers melt into the background and plod along at whatever pace is allowed by the recalcitrant few who resent the imposition of compulsory schooling.

Public education failings are evident throughout the other educational sectors. The Vocational Education and Training sector is often left to pick up the slack as underperforming kids are often pushed towards apprenticeships and traineeships with levels of language, literacy and numeracy so low that they cannot meet the basic requirements of the job and drop out of the system.

Universities are now reporting that they are running remedial written language programs for domestic students who can’t grasp the very basics of simple writing, where in some cases they can’t even form a sentence, after 12 years of schooling.

The 2006 Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey conducted by the ABS found that 46% of Australian adults lack the basic literacy ski9lls to allow them to function effectively in the modern economy.

With just under half the adult population being functionally illiterate are you willing to say that public education is delivering value for the taxpayers dollars that it absorbs?

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13
aidan 4:36 pm
17 Mar 11
#

georgesgenitals said :

Translation: kids who behave decently and don’t want to destroy things get to learn in an environment with substantially less interruption from idiots-in-training who want to cause trouble and destroy everything in sight.

Sounds OK to me.

Sure does. No parent wants disruptive kids in their class. For some this is one of the reasons they choose private education. It isn’t quoted as a reason as often as, say, “educational achievement”, as it highlights the fact that private education exists to promote privilege. If you can afford it, you get to separate yourself from the poor.

We like to think we’re egalitarian in Australia, but we’re not.

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14
aidan 4:54 pm
17 Mar 11
#

shadow boxer said :

I currently pay about $20,000 a year or about 20% of my gross income, its probably fair to say I value my kids education, how much do you pay?

Ouch! Really?!

I pay my taxes. We put in between 5 and 10 hours a week (conservatively) of our time at our school.

Is this a competition? I value my kids very much. I also don’t believe in God and wouldn’t send them to a school which taught them things I don’t believe in.

I think they are getting a good education. The school is great. I feel part of the local community in a way that I never did before the kids started school. It’s all brilliant as far as I’m concerned.

shadow boxer said :

the taxpayer will have to pay twice as much for them to get it and the public schools will be worse off as they now have to find the money for my kids.

No. Put simply, if just your kids were to drop out of private school and attend the local government school then the cost to the ACT taxpayer would probably be pretty close to zero. It would obviously depend how many kids you have and how full the public school was, but the marginal cost of accommodating them would be very low.

Of course if many more kids did the same thing then that cost would rise. But it would be unlikely to be anything like $10k per kid. This is not the marginal cost to the system of extra students unless the public system was straining at the seams and had to build and operate new facilities and employ many more new teachers.

Even if it did cost substantially more I wouldn’t mind. Because then there would be more people in the community with a vested interest in public education. Public education is still good, but it risks becoming marginalised, a residual system for only those who cannot afford to escape it. That is not good enough. It will be to the detriment of this country if it is allowed to become so.

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15
Skidbladnir 4:57 pm
17 Mar 11
#

breda said :

Interestingly, members of the public cannot find out about the magnificent educational, sporting and cultural facilities from the public website. You need to be approved to enter the school’s intranet. I wonder why that might be?

Because intranets are networks internal to an organisation, internets are between organisations?
You’re not part of their organisation, you don’t get access to their internal workings and administration.

breda said :

Just because taxpayers are providing subsidies surely doesn’t mean that the hoi polloi have a right to know what they are paying for?

Just because you pay into something doesn’t mean you get full access to everything.
I might be a shareholder of a few companies, but sadly, I don’t get unrestricted access to all of their buildings.
But you mean you never thought of simply taking the annual tour?

“The Kings School Tour:
87-129 Pennant Hills Rd, North Parramatta
The King’s School is the oldest independent school in Australia. The tour includes visits to: Gowen Brae, Burns Family Cemetery, The Kings School Chapel.
FREE Entry. Enquiries 9683 8453”

Last year it was mid-April.

breda said :

With prices like these, I think that a few grand per student from the taxpayer is just icing on the cake. But, it might be very useful to nearby public schools which lack rich benefactors and parents, and put pupils in rooms that King’s gardener would disdain to live in.

The King’s School receives, per student, $2953 from the Australian Government and $961 from the NSW Government. This is a total government funding of $3914 per student.

Actual funding is derived by measuring the Socio-Economic Status of parents’ addresses against Socio-Economic Index for Australia (Disadvantage) scores, and providing funding based on that.
Highly disadvantaged schools recieve more funding.
If it turns out that as a parent, you’re too wealthy\advantaged, your school gets less.
There is a stronger correlation of parents of children in independent schools with wealth, instead of independent schooling with disadvantage, so the schools receive less funding.
No school recieves no funding.
In order to dictate Federal curriculum and otherwise have a seat at the table, the Federal government puts up money. No money, no control, no governance.

So, instead of asking better questions about say “Why is education being rationalised?”, or “Why is funding for non-Government schools growing?”
The latter is due to the above formulae, as unless there was an explicit increase to the funding-per-student level for these schools, the increase to overall funding is due to an increase of students attending non-Government schools.

Sure the best question in that case would be Nationally, why are parents choosing to remove their children from the Government system in droves, and instead deliberately pay increased costs of direct monetary contributions to schools outside it?

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