The Guardian • Issue #2095


School’s out (of money)

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2095

New South Wales has handed down budget cuts to public education. The teachers of that state aren’t happy about it. Here’s why all of us should be unhappy about it too.

A 1.25 per cent cut doesn’t sounds like a lot, but it’s not a cut to a school system with funds to spare. That funding cut is $148 million dollars from schools, teachers and students that are already badly underfunded. Like all high schools, NSW public schools are funded way under the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) – which measures how much funding a school needs to meet students’ needs.

In a strategy that’s an old one in the world of education, unions are being blamed for cuts to their working conditions. The NSW Teachers Federation of NSW has stood up for members and gained a long-overdue pay rise. Naturally the Sydney Morning Herald has described the pay increase as “hefty” and the union as “powerful.”

Cue the cuts to public education. Education Minister Prue Car has said that the pay rise isn’t coming from cuts to school budgets, and that anyone who says otherwise is lying.

The NSW public system is short by about 3,000 teachers. That’s a lot, and you’d think it was time for more funding, not less. As often happens, the NSW government says money is tight.

Except when it isn’t. There’s a shortage of money, but not for private schools, who get a much larger slice of the SRS funding than public schools, while usually charging fees that keep most working people away.

Perhaps you can’t afford a private school? Never mind, you can still afford to fund it. You have to. We all pay Goods and Services Tax (GST). That tax goes to the states. The states, together with the Commonwealth, over-fund private education and under-fund public education. Almost all of us are funding private schools whose doors we couldn’t afford to set foot in.

This is more than just unfair, although it is very unfair. Funding private education at all is unfair. It’s also bad for the whole country.

Funding private schools from the taxes of people who will never use those schools is funding privilege. It’s funding the upper end of a class system. Criticism like this is often dismissed as “class war.” The truth is that there is a class war going on. It’s being funded with the taxes of the working class. Underfunding public schools is the other side of that class war.

That’s the opposite of what this country needs. We need all young people educated so that they can fully use their abilities, flourish, and to make Australia work for all of us. This country can afford a quality education for everyone.

It’s no surprise that the combination of underfunding for public schools and overfunding for the private system is happening under a Labor government. Labor has been running scared of the Private Education lobby for a long time. When they are in power, they tinker with the system, trying to improve public funding while not enraging the private school lobby’s sense of entitlement.

Whatever state you live in, you should be concerned that our country is underfunding schooling. NSW Labor is called ‘progressive,’ but we need more than ‘progressive’ if we want an education system that works for the people of this country.

We need socialism.

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