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

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?


Please login to post your comments, or connect with
32 Responses to Labor MP: maintain public funding to high-fee private schools
Filter
Order
KCL KCL 7:57 pm 09 Apr 11

nice report!

IrishPete IrishPete 9:43 pm 18 Mar 11

I have no children.

I object to 1c of my taxes going to private or Catholic or any other religious schools.

Find me one person who does not send their kids to a private school (or religious schools), or who did not attend those school systems themselves, who supports tax-payer funds going to them.

My point? This debate is entirely about self-interest. “Oh” you say “public school supporters are self-interested too” – I disagree. Most public school supporters would be happy for the private schools to disappear, and all government funds to go to government schools, even if this meant leess $$$ per child.

Those of you who bleat about not wanting to send your kids to the same school as your feral neighbours, you are part of the problem. Send your kids to the same school, and get involved in the school, and ensure that the ferals are an uninfluential minority, and are dealt with appropriately. And no, you won’t have the easy and cheap option of dealing with them the way the not the private/religious schools do, i.e. expelling them so that the public school system has to take them.

I was educated in a Catholic school system in another country, and I wouldn’t wish this apartheid-like experience on my my worst enemy, nor their children. If you want to live in a monocultural society, then go and find one. You live in multicultural Australia, and you have an obligation not to isolate your children from religious and cultural influences other than your own.

And hey, I haven’t even touched on the preferential tax-status of the private schools.

And John Howard had the gall to claim Australia is a class-less society (pun intended).

Pete

georgesgenitals georgesgenitals 6:40 pm 18 Mar 11

Skidbladnir said :

(Hello union members, I realise that might sound like heresy, but sacred cows occasionally need to be slaughtered)

MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Skidbladnir Skidbladnir 6:16 pm 18 Mar 11

aidan said :

But that isn’t the point. Public education works because it is pervasive, it is good and it is supported by the community. I don’t want taxes diverted encourage a private system which undermines equity and creates a two (multi!) tiered system of education in this country.

You keep only offering negative arguments that really weaken your case, though.
You aren’t saying “Remove all funding from private schools and put it to use in the public system, the outcomes from private schools will be near-identical, and the public education system will be better off.“, but instead closer to “The government is being wasteful by spending this money on private schools. The waste involved in public schools is neccessary…“.

Such argument temporarily increases your share of pie, but comes with an overhead threat to shrink or remove the pie.

If you want more pie, support a bigger pie or less waste everywhere?

aidan said :

If allowed to it will create systemic disadvantage. This is in the interest of noone in the long run

Your argument is easily refuted, though.
Public funding every school in order to have some extent of control over what gets taught in those schools benefits everyone by benefitting the individual and the whole.
Public education works to keep society supplied with a broad base of skilled bodies who have been taught to an accepted standard, standardised teaching, standardised exams, and also keeping children-at-risk engaged.

Seriously, why do you want to fracture the benefits of a standardised labour market and free up the top tier from any comitment to a public good, and allow them to further widen their advantage margin beyond the achievements of the public sector.
Exactly what benefit are you aiming for, or this just an idealogical outcome you’re aiming for?

(Hello union members, I realise that might sound like heresy, but sacred cows occasionally need to be slaughtered)

dundle dundle 4:05 pm 18 Mar 11

shadow boxer said :

Well no we’re not in an egalitarian society where all people would receive equal educational funding from the taxpayer and would be treated as equals and have the freedom to pursue the educational system that fits their political, economic, social, and civil rights beliefs.

Unfortunately this debate has been reduced to a group of people (contributing nothing extra) debating whether those that do should receive substantially less government funding or none at all.

Fortunately those in power appear to be seeing through the hysteria.

That’s how I see it. I like your second paragraph. I even fixed it for you.

For what it’s worth I’ve been to both public and private schools in Canberra. Some bullying will be everywhere and it seems to depend on the school culture rather than whether it’s public or private, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to put your kids in a place where awful bullies and disruptive brats can be kicked out after ruining their chances. Also, most private schools in the ACT are not academically selective.

aidan aidan 1:01 pm 18 Mar 11

shadow boxer said :

No its not a competition, if you feel 5 hours and no fees is enough, good for you, but you accused me of not valuing my kids ediucation.

Well sort of. You said that people such as yourself would drop out of private education if the costs went up more than 10% as a result of reducing Govt. funding to private schools. It seemed to me that you didn’t think it was really worth it if an extra 10% would make you pull your kids out.

By linking this action to your assertion that it would cost Govt. more if your kids went to a public school you hoped to show this to be a counterproductive move. Looked a bit like blackmail to me. I didn’t think you’d do that, despite what you said. Maybe I’m wrong.

shadow boxer said :

You are welcome to educate your kids your way, all I ask is a fair return of the taxes I pay to pursue my kids education my way.

But that isn’t the point. Public education works because it is pervasive, it is good and it is supported by the community. I don’t want taxes diverted encourage a private system which undermines equity and creates a two (multi!) tiered system of education in this country. If allowed to it will create systemic disadvantage. This is in the interest of noone in the long run.

shadow boxer shadow boxer 12:20 pm 18 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.

Aiden said 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.

No its not a competition, if you feel 5 hours and no fees is enough, good for you, but you accused me of not valuing my kids ediucation.

You are welcome to educate your kids your way, all I ask is a fair return of the taxes I pay to pursue my kids education my way.

aidan aidan 10:14 am 18 Mar 11

neanderthalsis said :

An improvement of one percent!

Here is the direct quote from the survey (which you used to back your assertions):

Comparing prose and document literacy levels in 1996 to those in 2006, there were statistically significant changes across the older population, with decreases in the proportions attaining Level 1, and increases in the proportions attaining Level 2 and 3. For the prose scale, in 2006 there were fewer people over the age of 50 years attaining Level 1, more people aged 40 to 44 years attaining Level 2, and more people aged 55 to 64 years attaining Level 3. On the document scale, there was a statistically significant decrease in the proportions of 55 to 64 year olds attaining skill Level 1. For all other age groups, there were no statistically significant changes from 1996 (table 2).

The take home message (for me at least) is that the 60+ age group have significantly worse literacy/numeracy and that in literacy and numeracy have been getting better, except for an up-tick in the 15-19 age group.

neanderthalsis said :

We’ll trot out the old “ten years of neglect under Howard” line that the left is so reliant on to attribute blame for systemic failures rather than policy shortcomings. I’m sure we will be having this same debate in years to come despite the educational wonderland that Rudd and Gillard promised.

Clearly we’ll differ about our interpretation of why there might have been a recent decrease in literacy levels. As evidence for my interpretation take a look at the table of international comparisons. Norway is clearly at the top, Canada and Australia about the same, the US significantly worse, and down the bottom is Italy.

Norway’s education system is overwhelming government funded and public:

Secondary education in Norway is primarily based on public schools: In 2007, 93% of upper secondary school students attended public schools. Until 2005, Norwegian law held private secondary schools to be illegal unless they offered a ‘religious or pedagogic alternative’, so the only private schools in existence were religious (Christian), Steiner/Waldorf, Montessori schools and Danielsen. The first “standard” private upper secondary schools opened in the fall of 2005.

neanderthalsis neanderthalsis 9:47 am 18 Mar 11

aidan said :

neanderthalsis said :

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?

The 2006 survey you refer showed an improvement in literacy since 1996. There was decrease in literacy with age. It was older people with poor literacy. There was a worrying uptick in the 15-19 age group. I’d suggest that this is the result of 10 years of neglect of the public system, but of course I’d think that, I’m a raving communist.

An improvement of one percent! We’ll trot out the old “ten years of neglect under Howard” line that the left is so reliant on to attribute blame for systemic failures rather than policy shortcomings. I’m sure we will be having this same debate in years to come despite the educational wonderland that Rudd and Gillard promised.

Gerry-Built Gerry-Built 9:43 pm 17 Mar 11

The MySchool financial data for Public Schools includes teacher wages at the schools. I’m not sure the same can be said of Independent Schools (who would probably derive that from parent contributions?).

They have also included Monies held for excursions etc as income (Fees Charge and Parent Contributions). Whilst my School has a community income of over $500K, only around $8K of that was parent contributions (ie those currently known as “Voluntary Contribution”). That averages to $8-9 per student.

This means that all the financial data in the MySchools summaries still gives a very false impression of Schools’ actual incomes.

The simple fact that most of the parents at Private Schools contribute funds for their children to do elective subjects, whilst those in public schools generally choose not to do so was one of the factors that led me to send my own children through the Catholic system rather than through the Public system for which I work. I don’t believe the standard of education is any different. I don’t see any problem with an equitable level of funding per student, per school – but I have no ideas on how that could be achieved in real terms. I also have a problem with sending my children into Public Schools were they are more likely to encounter greater numbers of the kinds of children I regularly have to deal with in my classes (and their associated attitudes, rudeness and appalling behaviour etc). Especially given that I know that some of these have been kicked out of Private Schools.

georgesgenitals georgesgenitals 8:17 pm 17 Mar 11

aidan said :

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.

I think part of the issue is that private schools are much more likely to deal with issues, rather than the public school mantra of “there’s nothing we can do about it”. There are always exceptions, but sadly we seem to have removed the ability of public schools to deal with idiots-in-training.

LSWCHP LSWCHP 7:34 pm 17 Mar 11

aidan said :

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.

Being egalatarian is one thing. Keeping your kids away from grey skinned rat faced scum is a different thing.

Before I discovered the profession of arms I was one of the quiet, smart kids who got shoved around by the hoods in school. For example, I can still remember being casually punched in the face by a bigger kid when I objected to him walking to the front of the bus line at a rural school I attended in 1973.

Evidently, such events can reverberate for a lifetime, and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way. I know that my life choices, and some of the less pleasant aspects of the person I’ve become were strongly influenced by the shit I went through at school.

To prevent my kids going through that same shit, I endure a fair amount of financial hardship to put them through a mid-level private school. The sole reason for this is that the school is exclusive in the sense that arsehat kids get a fair go, and if they continue to misbehave they’re excluded. It’s easy and it works. About a dozen or so kids each year get the flick, and my kids are no longer subject to the classroom disruption and bullying they endured at a public school.

I reckon the money’s worth it.

shadow boxer shadow boxer 6:46 pm 17 Mar 11

Well no we’re not in an egalitarian society where all people would receive equal educational funding from the taxpayer and would be treated as equals and have the freedom to pursue the educational system that fits their political, economic, social, and civil rights beliefs.

Unfortunately this debate has been reduced to a group of people (contributing nothing extra) debating whether those that do should receive substantionaly less government funding or none at all.

Fortunately those in power appear to be seeing through the hysteria.

dtc dtc 5:39 pm 17 Mar 11

Can anyone show me that cutting private school funding will automatically result in increased government school funding? Or will it just result in less funding to private schools? I know what I think would happen.

breda breda 5:32 pm 17 Mar 11

shadow boxer said:

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.
——————————————————————————
I picked up on King’s because the first commenter on this site used it as an example. He/she seems to think that taxpayers should give extra funds to a school that already charges quite a bit more than the average combined Commonwealth/State expenditure per student. It has waiting lists. This school also has facilities that public (and most private) schools can only dream of. Fine. But why should they get taxpayer subsidies, when the education dollar is so stretched?

The Commonwealth funding scheme we are discussing is national, so whether there is a campus in the ACT is irrelevant.

If you seriously think that parents of children at public schools ‘don’t care’, you are one sick puppy. Friends of mine have just pulled their daughters from one of our fanciest private schools and put them into public schools, because they have worked out that it is a waste of money. They are not wealthy, but rest assured that any savings will be available for extra curricular activities and tertiary education. Oh, and the public high school their eldest is going to has better academic results than the private school she left.

aidan aidan 5:16 pm 17 Mar 11

Clown Killer said :

“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?

No. Really. No.

What do you think the evil socialists are stopping private schools from teaching? Really?

aidan aidan 5:12 pm 17 Mar 11

neanderthalsis said :

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?

The 2006 survey you refer showed an improvement in literacy since 1996. There was decrease in literacy with age. It was older people with poor literacy. There was a worrying uptick in the 15-19 age group. I’d suggest that this is the result of 10 years of neglect of the public system, but of course I’d think that, I’m a raving communist.

Skidbladnir 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?

aidan 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.

aidan 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.

CBR Tweets

Sign up to our newsletter

 Top
Region Group Pty Ltd

Search across the site