May 10

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Searching for answers to school funding issues

Exciting momentum was generated by the Gonski Report on the funding of schools, but now the matter is wallowing in troubled waters.  The impetus for the proper funding of schools is in danger of being lost.  Like a new toy without a battery, Australian educators are now left with a handful of promises.

An unholy trinity of factors has blocked the Gonski reforms.  They are money, money and money.  The Federal Government will be flat out trying to fulfil the Federal Treasurer’s promise of a budget surplus in 2013 and most State Governments are unable or unwilling to fund the Gonski suggestions.  Adding to Government inaction are the escalating costs of the funding recommendations.  If implemented in 2014, they will cost more than double the $5 billion Gonski asked for this year.  There are also some grumbles from State and Territory Governments, the Catholic education sector and a number of schools who have calculated they may get less funding in real terms.

So what can be done?  The great temptation is not much – except whinge a bit and wait for a change in Federal Government.  However, a change in government will not solve the problem.  Whatever government is returned must make the proper funding of Australian schools a priority – particularly of under-sourced schools.  Someone has to work out where Australia can find some serious extra money.  Who?

The anti-independent school lobby, i.e. the Greens and the Labor Left, will suggest what they always suggest – take more money from well-resourced schools.  This is the politics of division and will not work.  Just ask Mark Latham whose ‘hit list’ of schools in 2004 was a political disaster.  If the fiscal raid on well-resourced schools was reduced to a politically acceptable level, the initiative would probably yield a fraction of the funding needed by poorly resourced schools.  No, this option won’t work.  We need to find a new source of funding.  Where?

A few ideas come to mind.  Let’s stop fighting expensive wars in the northern hemisphere.  (Big tick for the Government for bringing our troops home early).  A tax on our miners might be a good idea.  The hugely expensive off-shore processing of asylum seekers could be worth revising, as would a more economical version of the NBN.  I’ll leave the carbon tax off the agenda for the moment, only because it deserves more space than is available.

In order to decide where some of this extra money might come from, it is useful to return to basic principles.  Those that pay should be those that use.  In this case, it is the parents who have a child in an Australian school.  Any school.  Expostulations about education needing to be free are now inappropriate.  Our education is not free – and has never been.  Someone always pays.

The presumption of free medical cover was removed with the introduction of the Medicare Levy by the Fraser Government in 1976.  This evolved into the Medicare Levy Surcharge on those with income over $70,000 in 2008.  The presumption of free education must also be removed.

To propose a further tax is to invite eradication from most Christmas Card lists, but it is time for an Educare Levy on the parents of school students, particularly on those who are better off.  61 of the 100 wealthiest school communities, as shown on the 2009 ‘My School’ website, were State schools.  Most children in selective schools are from higher earning families.

Richer parents should pay more towards the schooling of their children, poorer parents should pay nothing.  The Educare Levy should be paid by parents, irrespective of whether they sent their children to a State, Catholic or Independent school.  The fee would be paid per child and be payable only when a family had a child at an Australian school.  Australian taxpayers begrudge paying any tax, but if there is sympathy for anything soaking up their taxpayer dollars, its education.

In closing, it needs to be acknowledged that money alone will not solve the educational ills of Australian schools.  Greater autonomy for school principals, less bureaucracy, more professional development of teachers and increased accountability are also needed.

In recognition that educational performance is predicated on the quality of the teacher, long-service leave for teachers should be turned into study leave.  Long service leave can be useful in refreshing a teacher, but will be even more useful, if instead of being used for an extended holiday, a secondary teaching job or just hoarded as a bit of extra superannuation, it was used to update teaching skills.  Re-training gives a teacher a genuine break from the classroom, but also gives them extra skills.  In this way, we might be able to have real impact on teaching effectiveness.

Oh … and we must pay teachers more as well.

OK – so you may not like all these ideas.  Fine.  But let’s keep thinking.  Let’s keep looking for answers to problems that will not go away if we look for solutions in the same barren places we have looked before.  We need to stop wallowing.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.timhawkes.com/searching-for-answers-to-school-funding-issues/


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  1. David Bliss

    Dear Tim,

    Many thanks for this contribution to the education debate. I agree with much of what you propose.

    The foundation of this debate is that any “public good”, be it education, health, transport, water, electricity etc., must be properly funded by the public purse. This, as you acknowledge, means that dirty word “tax”.

    Over the last decade, Australians have been softened up by successive governments (both Labor and Liberal) who feel the need to sweeten the budget by giving tax breaks and hand outs, for a mixture of fiscal, ideological and political reasons. Federal budget night has become an auction for the “winners and losers”. The media approaches the budget night task in the same manner and there is disproportionate focus on how you will better off in the hip pocket as an individual as opposed to how the Australian community will benefit collectively from better dental care, better telecommunications, improved infrastructure, a cleaner environment etc. A disconnect has grown in the collective mind of Australians, who fail to recognise that every tax break and every hand out means less money for the federal government to spend on services and infrastructure.

    It is, therefore, incumbent upon policy makers and community leaders to change the debate around taxes. I believe there is some support for this. Surveys conducted in recent years have increasingly suggested that there is growing support for ogvernments to spend revenue on services and infrastructure for the community rather than handing back surpluses to individual taxpayers in the form of further tax breaks.

    This means not only advocating for innovative taxation reform to ensure that the education system is properly funded to implement the Gonski review but also ensuring that we resist the temptation of any further trade offs between funding “public goods” and decreasing personal income and company taxation Further shinkage in our tax base simply neuters our ability to maintain and improve services to the public. it is not just about identifying new forms of taxation which bear a direct link to the identified item of spending, e.g. Educare, it also means defending taxation for the purpose of properly funding our public assets – our roads, our rail, our shcools, our hospitals, our water, our electricity etc.

    From an Old Boy who is both a committed trade unionist and ALP member I say well done. Keep up the fearless advocacy for those things which will ultimately benefit everyone in our community and not just the privileged.

    Best wishes,
    David Bliss
    Assistant Secretary
    Shop Assisants and Warehouse Employees’ Federation of Australia

  2. Aaron Malouf

    The forethought of an “Educare” system has to be taking the management of education away from State Governments and creating the same system that should apply with hospitals and health care – make them a Federal Government responsibility but with accountabilty at a local level with the creation of School Boards. That way, issues such as Curriculum, Naplan, University Entry, Teacher remuneration and tenure can at least be consistent nationally. Schools Boards can manage their funds to their relative strengths and weaknesses without the current “pigeon hole” approach.
    The problem with the Educare concept is that the present Government thinks that a single salary of $80,000 constitutes “wealthy”. If you scale an Educare levy to income- and I’m equally certain Australians wont mind the impost if there was a tangible proposal to save the education system in front of them- you may want to consider the total family income, and not merely the individual.
    The reality is, especially living in metropolitan Sydney, is that our commitment to our mortgages requires double income input more often than not and savings exist only within our superannuation schemes, which havent been that great in recent times. The extra impost will take its toll on the growing many whose ability to afford private education for their children is marginal.
    Maybe a substanial tax credit for those paying for Independent Education can be provided when children graduate from secondary schooling.

    I’m still waiting to see if any leaders will embrace The Gonski Report in a non-partisan way. I beleive that I should find a comfortable seat because I may be waiting a while.

  3. Thanks Aaron, some great thoughts here! Let the debate continue.

  4. Great to hear from an Old Boy – and a creative thinker as well. Warm wishes.

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