The Guardian August 30, 2000


Government to increase handouts to wealthy private schools

by Peter Mac

The Federal Government is intent on introducing new legislation that could 
result in the wealthiest public schools gaining greatly increased public 
funding.

Under the new arrangements, funding of private schools would rise to about 
65 per cent of total federal government grants, with the public schools 
receiving only 35 per cent of funding, down about eight per cent from the 
1996 level.

The wealthiest public schools could expect to gain an extra $46 million in 
public funds.

The scheme would use the addresses of parents of enrolled students to 
determine the level of funding for private schools, rather than the present 
estimate based on a school's wealth.

In some instances this favours the wealthy schools.

For example, a wealthy family with children in an expensive boarding school 
would bring an elite private school more funds if they lived in a depressed 
rural area.

ALP Senator Kim Carr told a Senate Inquiry in Canberra recently that under 
the new scheme Melbourne's exclusive Wesley College could receive $2.5 
million over the next four years.

The inquiry has been hampered by the government's reluctance to disclose 
full information about the proposed legislation, which it wants Parliament 
to pass without seeing the funding details.

Nevertheless, some details have emerged.

All schools would be required to sign up to performance targets in certain 
(unspecified) subjects, which would severely limit funding for schools with 
the most disadvantaged students.

On a per capita enrolment basis the wealthier private non-Catholic schools 
would receive double the funding increase going to the Catholic schools.

Overall, the 65 wealthiest private schools are likely to benefit to the 
tune of some $65 million under the new scheme. 

Speakers at a recent meeting of the NSW Federation of Parents' and Citizens 
Associations were highly critical of the Federal Government's its general 
support for private rather than public education.

The President of the Federation, Bev Baker, later commented: 

"We are constantly being told how much better private schools are, with no 
evaluation of the fact.

"Public schools are owned by the public, open to public scrutiny and 
accountability. They are the only schools that are. It is these very 
strengths that are used to weaken them.

"Private schools are only accountable to those who choose to use them, not 
to the taxpaying community which largely funds them.

"The community has never been asked if it wanted to give away its public 
education system, but by stealth it is being taken away", Ms Baker said.

"The public does not know and is not told of the funds that flow from the 
public purse to these private institutions, nor do they know that Australia 
is the only country in the world that uses public money to support private 
choice in this way."

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