Thursday, September 16, 2004

Private school funding and the election

If Labor's policy is so fair, show me where it has a transparent method of calculating what amount schools ought to receive, says Graham Young at “Troppo”.

Here’s a solution, Graham (and Mark Latham): zero public funding for private schools – now that’s transparent.

I’ve blogged pre-electorally and quite fully on this topic, and accordingly wasn’t going to touch it this time around, but I just couldn’t stop myself when I saw the venom being spewed out at the prospect of Labor’s milder-than-mild funding cuts.

As for a zero public funding for private schools policy, I’m quite serious, with two qualifications. One is to allow for state-funded religious schools, as happens in Canada. While I’m not up to speed on the current Canadian system, in the 80s Catholic schools at least were resourced identically to secular public schools, and so were tuition-free. Obviously, especially today, all religions should be able to avail themselves of such a model, should they wish – and there is of course a price to pay, in terms of extensive state regulation, and probably also critical mass, in terms of being able to justify and run a skeletal, dispersed system-within-the-system.

My second qualification admits the drastic nature of what I’m proposing (especially if my above qualification/compromise would not get off the ground, which is a fair chance in today’s socially atomised Australia). Accordingly, it should be implemented as a strictly temporary move – that is, the tap to private schools should only be turned completely off for as long as it takes for Australia’s public universities to be properly resourced (say, back to mid-80s levels).

Again, this latter condition may be a simple case of “never” – but at least the ball is then firmly in the court of the Nation’s Choosing to Cut its Own Throat if it Wishes.

Two of today’s SMH letters to the editor nicely show up the dilemma-cum-paradox that is merrily splashing money around on private schools, while starving public universities. (I should note here that this “Good Education, Bad Education” game was started by Labor in 1987, and further, that while Labor’s current campaign promises for tertiary education are miles better than the status quo, they are a band-aid on a suppurating wound that is at least 50% of Labor’s creation.)

Catherine Matterson of St Ives writes:

Until yesterday, I was a swinging voter. Then upon reading Mr Latham's proposal to cut funding to certain private schools, when there is clearly so much money in the government coffers to fund all schools (government and private), I made another choice. (emphasis added)

If there was indeed so much money to fund education generally, you stupid rich bitch, then no one would be squabbling over the last hot chip, viz whether students from a top private school get $1500 or $3000 per head per annum.

In the other corner, Barry Henson of Cronulla says:

My boys go to a public school. They sit in portable classrooms that have no heating or air-conditioning.

At my most-recent employer, a Melbourne (public) university, I largely taught in such conditions – while not actually portable classrooms, a whole building wing lacked any heating or air-conditioning. And lacking even access to a shared office, I used my car for this purpose, and had to pay handsomely for this (the car-parking), too.

Such, then is my point – in a severely resource-constrained environment, giving taxpayer money to private schools (and private universities) is a plain obscenity. I’m not envious; I’m just numb.

Update 18 September 2004

Today, a new twist on the “finite amount of taxpayer money available for education” argument – why not charge fees to public school students? The rationale here is apparently that because many students today have mobile phones, therefore their families must be quite wealthy (which argument, of course, is a Clive Hamilton original).

Believe it or not, the case for public school fees is being put forward by a current teacher in the public school system: Susan Leembruggen, of the Ashtonfield/Branxton area. In 2001, Susan was a distressed chook farmer asking for a government bail-out, while in the late 90s, she was pricking Margo Kingston’s conscience, so as to install within it an embryonic empathy with the regional battlers personified by the rise of One Nation.

All up then, Susan can hardly be accused of inconsistency. OTOH, that such a piece of white trash* sees fit to now display her white trashness in a prominent public forum does give one pause to wonder – do public schools actually have a policy of employing their own worst enemies?

* and baby boomer also, I would hazard a guess, based on her sense of “me” entitlement, and fuck everyone else

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