Public education starves,
while private schools stuff themselves
The Federal Treasurer hardly mentioned education in delivering his federal budget speech. Yet education is shaping up as an issue of crisis proportions working people. The Howard Government's practice of massive increases for private schools, and little or peanuts for public education, is exacerbated in this budget. Federal Government funding for private schools will reach $4 billion next year, and $5 billion in 2005-06. Over the same period funding to state schools will increase at less than half the rate to reach only $2.55 billion. In money terms, the percentage increase in funding for public schools equates to an increase of some $15 per public school student, compared to an average increase of approximately $298 per private student. Next year, for the first time in our history, government funding to private schools will exceed funding to public universities. Last year the Australian Council of State School Organisations (ACOSSO) responded to the federal Minister for Education's request for suggestions as to which program for public schools would have the greatest effect in introducing equity in education. ACOSSO immediately proposed a program to assist children where no member of the family was employed. About one third of students in 25 per cent of schools fall into this category. ACOSSO president, Rodney Molesworth, commented: "A program such as this would take several years to reach its full capacity, and would then consume, at most, $50 million a year. This figure is less than a sixth of this year's increase to public schools. It would pay massive dividends to governments and communities in savings in remediation, behavioural problems, health care and crime prevention." However, as Mr Molesworth pointed out, there is not a mention of such an initiative in this year's federal budget. The Government has offered employers handouts as an incentive to take on apprentices. However, the offer has been restricted to cases involving those seeking a career in information technology. The grants will also be provided to employers only, not to apprentices. The budget makes no provision for second year apprentices or tertiary education students who have to live away from home because of geographic isolation. Tertiary education rates for students from rural and remote locations have decreased since 1991. There has been no increase in the budget allocation for the federally-funded Country Areas Program for country schools. Extra funding for post-graduate research is to be provided to four universities or colleges. Consistent with the Government's other handouts to the private sector, these are all private institutions, i.e. the Bond University, The Melbourne College of Divinity, the Christian Heritage College and the Tabor College. The budget's allocation for public universities will ensure that they continue their slide toward corporate takeover (backdoor privatisation) or bankruptcy. Over the last ten years there has been an average increase in student-to- staff ratios from 12:1 to 19.1, and a 40 percent increase in the total number of students enrolled. Funding per student has actually decreased in real terms. This is amply demonstrated in the current budget allocation, which provides a 5.8 percent increase in university funding. University vice-chancellors have described this as inadequate to keep up with rising costs and wages. Funding for State and Territory industry training advisory bodies is to be phased out. As long as the Howard Government remains in office, the outlook for public education looks increasingly bleak.