Education in the service of privilege
by Bob Briton With the election out of the way it is time to look at the Howard Government's policies. The Howard Government says the new "socio-economic status" model for funding overcomes anomalies in the "widely discredited" former Education Resources Index model. This earlier mechanism allocated funds according to the wealth of schools and is still used to determine funding for 75 per cent of non-government schools of the more genuinely needy (mostly Catholic) type. The new socio-economic status scheme was, in fact, designed to justify huge increases to Australia's wealthiest schools such as Trinity Grammar, Newington The King's school, Geelong Grammar and St Peter's Collegiate for example. This is how it works. Instead of the needs of each school being assessed, a school's status is calculated by taking the average income of the neighbourhoods from which the students originate. This is not a measure of the parents' actual income but a rough calculation of all incomes for the suburb or district they live in. So, if a boarder at one of the elite colleges arrives from a depressed rural area with high unemployment, the student counts as being from a disadvantaged background, even though mummy and daddy own property as far as the eye can see. It is on the basis of this sleight of hand that the rich and elite Pembroke wangles $2,125,485 per annum from State and Federal sources. Suggestions from the Democrats that Medicare or other Government held data could be used to distribute funds according to the parents' actual income were brushed aside by the Education Minister, Dr Kemp, because it would be an invasion of those individuals' privacy! But when it comes to the recipients of Austudy or the dole the Government has no such qualms about the privacy of the individual. But then, they are only the poor in the community! The Government claims that by sending a child to a non-government school community money is being saved money. The Minister of Education, Dr Kemp no longer releases details of the funding going to individual non-government schools, but from statistics given in Parliament to a question by Greens Senator Bob Brown, the Australian Education Union pieced together the following example. In 1996, Trinity College in South Australia had income of $2,085,139 from tuition fees, $7,105,189 in government grants and $434,448 from other sources (investments and so on). Total income was $9,624,776. They had total expenditures of $8,062,871 leaving an "operating surplus" of $1,561,905. Under the new funding arrangements Government grants to Trinity have increased by over 42 per cent since 1995 so that they reached $9,250,671 in 1999. These figures belie the claim that the community is being saved money. The changes mean that the biggest percentage increase in funding goes to the category 1-3 schools, that is, the ones most able to source their own funds. Struggling schools in categories 10-12, which are least able to find financial resources, have had their funding barely maintained under the new regime. The rich and the poor The Government claims that the social mix of students is roughly the same in the private school and the public school systems. The fact is that high-income earners are more than two-and-a-half times more likely to send their children to private schools than are low income earners! Low-income earners can rarely afford to send their children to the hallowed private institutions. At a pinch, they might send their children to a cash- strapped Catholic school. Howard & Co. maintain that their policies are promoting "choice" for Australian parents by making the option of a private education more widely available. However, under the Government's policies, the greatest boost to funding has gone to schools with fees of the order of $10,000. Theft of public funds Another mechanism for the theft of public funds is the Enrolment Benchmark Adjustment (EBA). This scheme hides a complicated formula by which for every new enrolment in a private school, funds are taken from public schools. In fact four private school places are exchanged for every one at a public institution. In 1998, $12 million was stolen from public schools nationally and this year $200 million is expected to be "transferred" using this device. The end result is that the Federal Government spends just over $5,000 per year on public school students education while private students have $8,000 spent on theirs. The elite schools lavish around $20,000 per year on their students. A public education, if present policy directions are maintained, could become a "welfare" education for the children of the very poor. In the final analysis, the various State Governments and the Federal Government give only 60 per cent of their school funding to the public schools that educate 70 per cent of the country's children. The Commonwealth, which has dragged from its classed-based propaganda cupboard a claim that it has a special responsibility for private schools while the States look after public ones, now gives 68 per cent of its funds to private schools and only 32 per cent to public schools. A people's alternative The guiding principle and aim of the Communist Party's education policy is the provision of free, universal and secular public education for all children. The public education system must be strengthened and State aid to non-government schools phased out if we are to produce a highly literate and cultured society. Immediately, the CPA calls for an end to all government funding to Category 1-3 schools. It would do away with funding to schools that don't observe equal employment and anti-discrimination legislation. The CPA supports TAFE as a fully funded public system, which guarantees places to students unable to find work or not involved in other study. The Party calls for the restoration of funding to universities to a level that allows for suitable student-teacher ratios and does away with the need for private sponsorship. The CPA would also abolish all fees including the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS). And where can the money come from for such far-reaching reforms? Government priorities have to be adjusted to end the enormous handouts to private corporations, by cutting back the expenditure on armaments and by changing the taxation priorities to increase taxes on the wealthy and the very high profits of many industries, the banks and insurance companies.