The Guardian April 17, 2002


Needs of public education ignored

Years of cuts and underfunding are taking their toll on the public 
education system. A number of state primary and secondary schools are 
suffering the "death of a thousand cuts" as funds are transferred to 
largely unaccountable private schools.

NSW is a good example of this trend. The State's upper house of parliament 
is to hold a public inquiry into the government's bitterly opposed plans to 
close six inner-Sydney schools.

Let's hope this inquiry will be have a better outcome than the one set up 
by the government to look into the establishment, funding and regulation of 
private schools.

This inquiry is being chaired by Warren Grimshaw, executive director of the 
Coffs Harbour Education campus. Its first report is not promising. If 
implemented it would have the effect of boosting state funding for private 
schools.

The private system is, however, a little jumpy about one of the reports 
recommendations for a new watchdog organisation, the Non-Government Schools 
Committee.

This Committee would examine any proposals to expand existing private 
schools, or to create new ones.

Ostensibly, this group's job would be to assess the impact such proposals 
would have on existing schools.

However, there is no indication that the Committee would have either the 
power or the motive to restrict, let alone terminate state funding.

It is almost certain that the Committee would be dominated by those 
favouring state funding for private schools, and that the Committee would 
actually facilitate, rather than oppose, the drain of public funds away 
from public schools to the private system.

The report contains the recommendation that private schools should be more 
accountable for the way they spend the funds which the taxpayers are forced 
to lavish on them, and that they should be obliged to certify that they 
have spent taxpayer funding on certain areas. This recommendation has been 
dismissed as unworkable by the NSW Teachers' Federation.

Moreover, the report's recommendations do not even begin to tackle the 
issue of why taxes should be directed to the private education in the first 
place. As one commentator put it, "for some protagonists no outcome less 
than taking away state funding from non-government schools will suffice."

State funding is the subject of a second report which has been shelved 
pending a period of public consultation on the recommendations of the first 
report. It would also appear that this second report will not be released 
until after the State elections in 2003.

The NSW Government now contributes some $500 million of taxpayers' funds 
towards the private system.

NSW Greens' Senator Lee Rhiannon last week attacked the State Government's 
failure to release the report on state funding.

"Warren Grimshaw has delivered a gift to private schools while ignoring the 
needs of public education", she commented.

"Grimshaw's private school accountability and reporting proposals avoid 
full public disclosure. His Non-government Schools Council would be nothing 
more than a government-funded lobby group for private schools. His model of 
"collaboration" between public and private schools is an insult to public 
education.

"To make matters worse, the Government has suppressed Grimshaw's private 
school funding proposals. If these are anything like the rest of the 
report, they will only serve to further disadvantage public education."

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