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Barr for Fairer Funding: Open Letter to Federal MPs

By TomGreenwell - 15 August 2011 7

The following letter was sent to Canberra MPs, Andrew Leigh and Gai Brodtmann (and forwarded to Kate Lundy and Gary Humphries) on Sunday 14th of August. ______________________________________________________________

Dear Dr Leigh and Ms Brodtman,

I write to draw your attention to two issues recently raised by the ACT Minister for Education, Andrew Barr, in the context of the Commonwealth Government’s Review of Funding for Schooling.

As you’d be aware, Commonwealth funding to private-schools is currently indexed against the average cost of educating students in the public system. This is despite the reality that public schools face additional costs associated with providing education to all young Australians, including those with high needs. In his submission to the Commonwealth Government’s Review, Minister Barr questioned the current arrangements.

“The ACT considers the use of the AGSRC as the basis for providing funding to non-government schools results in a generous level of indexation and funding to some non-government schools, when considering the needs of students as the primary focus. Public schools have a higher proportion of students with high needs including special needs students, Indigenous students, low-SES students and students from non-English speaking backgrounds.”

Minister Barr has also raised concerns about another aspect of the socio-economic status model introduced by the Howard government in 2001. He has noted that using census district averages to assess a student’s socio-economic status leads to significant inaccuracies. In The Canberra Times of the 10th of August he was quoted as stating:

“The key example I always give is the postcode 2603, which takes in the suburbs of Red Hill and Forrest… This is one of the richest postcodes in Australia, but it also contains quite a number of disadvantaged families in public housing and rentals… I have to raise these examples in virtually every discussion I’ve had with education ministers, because more often than not funding is aggregated across postcodes and the ACT misses out, yet we know we have pockets of disadvantage.”

Minister Barr pointed out that there is a better alternative already employed in the context of My School 2.0. The Index of Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) used on My School 2.0 relies on school-level information about parental occupation and educational attainment. When this measure was implemented on My School earlier this year, it gave a more accurate picture of the socio-economic background of the student populations at Australian schools. Surely, the same superior measure should be employed to inform Commonwealth funding of schools.

As the Gillard Government receives the Gonski Review in the coming months and then formulates its response, I urge you to attend to these two important arguments advanced by the ACT Education Minister. More generally, I urge you to advocate within the Government for a fairer, smarter funding system that strengthens the public schools that, amongst other things, educate the overwhelming majority of Australian kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Yours Sincerely,
Tom Greenwell

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7 Responses to
Barr for Fairer Funding: Open Letter to Federal MPs
Classified 8:14 am 26 Aug 11

2604 said :

If you’re so interested in equitable funding, why not ask why parents of children attending Lyneham High, Telopea and Alfred Deakin – which are located in Canberra’s most affluent areas and have sky high ICSEA scores – are not required to contribute a cent towards their children’s education (other than voluntary contributions, which are voluntary, and token amounts for excursions and materials)?

We’re talking about the children of the wealthiest families in the city, and the poorest and most disadvantaged Canberrans are contributing millions in rates and government charges towards their education.

You might also care to explain to us how the huge pay rises for teachers being demanded by your union will assist “the overwhelming majority of Australian kids from disadvantaged backgrounds”. The truth is that higher teacher salaries will siphon off money from other parts of the education budget.

The point, I think, is that the wealthiest families pay significantly more in tax than the non-wealthy(?) families. Given that everyone contributes according to their taxable income, such people contribute more to everything, not just schools. To suggest that the wealthy should automatically pay for their kids to go to private school is effectively saying that they should pay more tax.

2604 12:04 am 26 Aug 11

TomGreenwell said :

It’s incorrect to say that wealthy public school parents “are not required to contribute a cent towards their children’s education”. They pay with their taxes and, as much as they are wealthy, they pay more tax. It may well be the case that our tax system should be more progressive than it is. But that’s another issue.

People pay the same tax rate regardless of whether they have children at a government school, or not. The entire cost of educating the children of the wealthy in government schools – an average of $11,000 per student at Lyneham High – is borne by all taxpayers, when many of these wealthy parents have the capacity to meet most or all of these costs themselves. How does that model constitute a “fair funding system”? Sounds like a lot of rich folks freeloading, to me – like giving a free ride on an ACTION bus not only to the elderly and indigent, but also to people earning $100-200,000 per year.
Besides which, parents of children at non-government schools also pay taxes. Are you arguing that wealthy parents of government school children deserve to get some value for their taxation dollars, while wealthy parents of non-government school attendees don’t? How is that fair?

TomGreenwell said :

Fees and exclusive enrolment practices mean private schools cannot be accessed by all Australians.

Can you name five private schools in Canberra with “exclusive enrolment practices”? Catholic schools admit children of all faiths, on the proviso that their parents won’t object to religious teachings. Seems reasonable to me. Besides, aren’t there also government schools in Australia with “exclusive enrolment practices”, like selective government schools which segregate the smartest students from the rest? Such selective government schools aren’t exactly accessible by all Australians.

TomGreenwell said :

But it’s important to appreciate the extent to which private schools are publicly funded; the Catholic system is 80% public funded. “Non-government school” is a bit of a misnoma.

I think you mean “misnomer”.
This is a semantic argument. The salient point is that the government is obliged to ensure that all children receive an education. It can either pay around $11,000 to educate them itself, at a place like Lyneham. Or it can pay a lower amount (eg $4800 at Radford) to have them educated elsewhere, with parents picking up the rest of the tab. Which scenario gives the taxpayer a better deal? Private schools, no doubt, which is why they receive bipartisan support and will receive funding well into the future.

TomGreenwell said :

You suggest that various public schools in Canberra have ‘sky high’ ICSEAs. Lyneham High is one you mention. It’s ICSEA of 1114 is high compared nationally but less so compared with other Canberra schools.

It is still miles ahead of schools like Calwell High (ICSEA 986), Mackillop (1018), Caroline Chisholm (976), Lanyon (986), Melba Copeland (1020), and KSS (1003).

TomGreenwell said :

To attract and retain high quality teachers, they need to be rewarded with competitive salaries. The Government is refusing to meet our demand for pay parity with NSW teachers. Do you think it’s unreasonable to demand pay parity with our NSW colleagues?

The idea that better-paid teachers automatically equals better-educated students is union nonsense. Better-performing teachers should equal better-educated students, but since the education unions got rid of school inspectors and want nothing to do with performance assessment of teachers, we have no way of ensuring performance, and therefore no way of knowing whether our children are being well educated in the public system, or not.
To answer your question, I think that people should get paid on the basis of the quality of their output, not on whatever someone in the next state is getting. What NSW teachers are getting paid means nothing in isolation – they could be more productive, or be required to work more hours, or be getting better outcomes. Their union could have demanded a huge payrise as a precondition for preselecting someone at the last NSW election. What I will say is that ACT teachers are demanding more than 3.5% per annum pay rises (when the rest of the public sector is settling for 3% and the private sector is basically not getting any) AND demanding fewer contact hours, AND demanding top-ups for certain teachers. All against a backdrop of falling government-school enrolments.

caf 11:10 pm 25 Aug 11

I went to Lyneham High, and Scots College it ain’t.

Gerry-Built 10:47 pm 25 Aug 11

2604 said :

You might also care to explain to us how the huge pay rises for teachers being demanded by your union will assist “the overwhelming majority of Australian kids from disadvantaged backgrounds”. The truth is that higher teacher salaries will siphon off money from other parts of the education budget.

Pay rises that raise teacher salaries closer to parity with those achieved by NSW teachers (as well as teachers in all other jurisdictions) is neither “huge”, nor unfair. Study after study has confirmed that the most influential controllable factor in high quality education outcomes is teacher quality (just Google it). There is currently an undersupply of teachers, due to the fact that people don’t see teaching as a desirable career path; and one clearly identified contributing factor is the low salaries the teaching profession offers university graduates. Attracting (yet alone retaining) quality teachers to the profession is already hard enough, consider what the ACT system will be like if teachers in the ACT are the lowest paid in Australia – as they will be under the current offer.

TomGreenwell 9:51 pm 25 Aug 11

‘2604’, thanks for your response.

It’s incorrect to say that wealthy public school parents “are not required to contribute a cent towards their children’s education”. They pay with their taxes and, as much as they are wealthy, they pay more tax. It may well be the case that our tax system should be more progressive than it is. But that’s another issue.

The thrust of your point, I suspect, is that private school parents have to pay fees in addition to their taxes. It’s fair that they do for the same reason it’s fair that people have to pay out of their own pockets for private security (but not the police) and private swimming pools (but not public swimming pools). Fees and exclusive enrolment practices mean private schools cannot be accessed by all Australians. It is thus appropriate that those who do benefit from private schools to bear a significant portion of their cost. But it’s important to appreciate the extent to which private schools are publicly funded; the Catholic system is 80% public funded. “Non-government school” is a bit of a misnoma.

I’ve written more about the anomalous nature of public funding of private schools here: http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=11573 .

You suggest that various public schools in Canberra have ‘sky high’ ICSEAs. Lyneham High is one you mention. It’s ICSEA of 1114 is high compared nationally but less so compared with other Canberra schools. The ICSEA of its neighbour, Brindabella Christian College is 1154. Note that 9% of Lyneham parents are in the lowest ICSEA quarter, whereas only 1% of students at Brindabella are in a similar position. Your point is somewhat better borne out by comparison with Daramalan College which has an ICSEA of 1102.

You suggested I explain “how the huge pay rises for teachers being demanded by your union will assist the overwhelming majority of Australian kids from disadvantaged backgrounds”. As the ACT Government itself has argued, teacher quality is a crucial determinant of educational outcomes. To attract and retain high quality teachers, they need to be rewarded with competitive salaries. The Government is refusing to meet our demand for pay parity with NSW teachers. Do you think it’s unreasonable to demand pay parity with our NSW colleagues?

2604 10:28 pm 22 Aug 11

If you’re so interested in equitable funding, why not ask why parents of children attending Lyneham High, Telopea and Alfred Deakin – which are located in Canberra’s most affluent areas and have sky high ICSEA scores – are not required to contribute a cent towards their children’s education (other than voluntary contributions, which are voluntary, and token amounts for excursions and materials)?

We’re talking about the children of the wealthiest families in the city, and the poorest and most disadvantaged Canberrans are contributing millions in rates and government charges towards their education.

You might also care to explain to us how the huge pay rises for teachers being demanded by your union will assist “the overwhelming majority of Australian kids from disadvantaged backgrounds”. The truth is that higher teacher salaries will siphon off money from other parts of the education budget.

AndrewLeigh 11:05 am 18 Aug 11

Dear Tom

Thank you for your email regarding the Gillard Labor Government’s School Funding Review. Providing Australians with quality education by investing in our schools is an area of policy reform that I am passionate about; I recently spoke in parliament on this topic (http://www.andrewleigh.com/blog/?p=1151)

The Gillard Government believes education is critical to the life of the nation. A great education can provide each student with the opportunity to fulfil their potential and ensure a sustainable, prosperous future. For this reason, education is central to the Government’s agenda. We are committed to ensuring the full development of every child and supporting all schools to achieve this, regardless of sector or system.

The Government has committed over $64 billion in funding for government and non-government schools over 2009–2012 – almost double that of the Coalition in their last term. As well as general recurrent funding, this includes investment in Trades Training Centres, the Digital Education Revolution, Building the Education Revolution, and National Partnerships to improve literacy and numeracy, boost teacher quality, and support low SES school communities.

As you know, the Government is currently undertaking a comprehensive review of funding arrangements for schooling. The review intends to provide the strongest possible platform for long term investment and improvement in educational outcomes beyond 2013. Its recommendations will be directed towards achieving a funding system which is transparent, fair, financially sustainable and effective in promoting excellent educational outcomes for all Australian students.

If you have not done so already, you may be interested to view the statement that the Hon. Peter Garrett, Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, released on 30 May 2011, outlining the Government’s current position on school funding. It is available at http://www.deewr.gov.au/GarrettRFSstatement.

The panel conducting the review released a Review of Funding for Schooling: Emerging Issues Paper on 16 December 2010. The paper summarises the views gathered through a stakeholder listening tour that it undertook with some 70 key education stakeholder groups across Australia in the second half of 2010.

The panel intends to publish a second issues paper this month that will present the key findings of the research work that it has commissioned. The panel will seek public responses to the issues raised in the paper throughout August and September 2011.

I hope this information has been of assistance. Please don’t hesitate to contact me again if you have further questions.

Yours sincerely

Andrew Leigh

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