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."