The Guardian May 24, 2000


Government undermines public schools

In 1996 the Howard Government spent 73 cents on government schools for 
every $1 it spent on private schools. In 1998 it was 61 cents to $1, this 
year it's 42 cents to $1. The Australian Education Union (AEU) estimates 
that by 2003 private schools will have received more than $3.2 billion from 
the Federal Government.

Just to restore the government schools to the 1996 ratio in 2003 will 
require an increase in funding of $800 million, a highly unlikely scenario.

This funding shortfall has been funnelled into the coffers of the private 
schools out of public school funding via the Government's Enrolment 
Benchmark Adjustment scheme.

The scheme  which is measured by a cumulative benchmark from 1996  
diverts funding from the public system on a state-by-state basis each year. 
The amount diverted is determined by how much less in percentage terms 
state school enrolment increases are compared to the private schools.

So despite an increase of 8,300 students, government schools will have 
$26.74 million taken from them based on enrolment figures in 1999.

This highly unfair form of funding represents a major, fundamental 
restructuring of the basis on which private schools operate. It represents 
a real threat to the future of Australia's public school system.

The economic think tank, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and 
Development (OECD), noted in a report it released last week that Australia 
had fallen behind the other OECD members from the developed western 
countries in overall funding of education.

In 1997 combined state and federal government spending on education was 
just 4.3 percent of GDP, putting Australia 23rd out of the 28 OECD members, 
ahead only of the USA, Greece, south Korea, Japan and Germany.

Denis Fitzgerald, Federal President of the AEU, called the figures 
"appalling but sadly unsurprising".

Research by the AEU last year concluded that a deliberate conflict of 
interest was being created in education between personal interest and 
common good and that the iniquitous form of funding will mean some 
government schools will feel compelled to compete.

"They will seek to raise fees to a level which will exclude some students, 
and to select those students most likely to enhance the reputation of 
schools.

"They will model themselves on private schools.

"Others will accept social responsibility and be left with the task of 
educating those which other schools do not want, with minimal resources and 
under perpetual criticism for their failure to meet the standards of less 
accessible schools.

"They will become sink schools with the worst resources for the most needy 
students.

"It is a recipe to ensure that students receive the schooling their parents 
can afford rather than an equitable start for all.

"It is the end of the concept of equity in educational provision, and of 
free, universal education."

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