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Sep 04

School Funding

The latest election issue to hit the press is that of funding and education. I haven’t been keeping up with election events all that much, but I got the opportunity to have a browse through a hard copy of the SMH today (sidenote: nothing beats hard copy where related articles are more conveniently grouped together – so much easier to read than online where coverage may be scattered).

I noted that my alma mater is one of the schools that would cop a large funding cut under Labor’s education plan. I have vague recollections of each Speech Night where the Head Master would announce yet another annual fee increase (always above the inflation rate), which cued the ritual groans from some 2000 parents.

It turns out from this “hit list” that the school is the fifth most expensive in the State, in terms of fees (and it looks like sixth nationally). It stands to lose $3 million, more than half its funding, if Labor were to enter Government, based on Labor’s new criteria for determining how much funding private schools receive. What I want to know is what a private school with fees that high is doing with so much public funding in the first place? It’s bewildering.

I imagine that all that money isn’t just for sustaining the school. Not by a long shot. A lot of it is put into development and expansion, to raise the school’s profile, to be able to expand capacity and take in more students, and oh yes, provide a better quality of education (which also includes out-of-classroom co-curricular activities). This isn’t a bad thing, but it does raise problems when the school starts to begin being run too much like a corporate entity. When I was attending the school, I heard rumours of them thinking of splitting up middle school (years 7-9) into two campuses – one in the city, and one in the country so they could get more students and also tap into the regional “market” more directly. To me, it sounded like a bad idea.

So there’s nothing inherently wrong with this continual focus on growth that the wealthier private schools have, but, especially in the interests of equity, everyone needs an education. Not just “any education”, but a reasonably decent one. There are a lot of other schools in the private system that are nowhere near as well resourced and funded (indeed, some are struggling). The Latham cuts/redistribution would help somewhat to alleviate this imbalance.

The private schools on the hit list have said that if Latham were to implement his funding cuts, they would be forced to raise their fees. I don’t think they are raising fees because they couldn’t survive if they didn’t – they would be raising fees so they could continue expanding and building, or at least to maintain their sprawling multi-campus properties. Is this result fair to the parents? I suppose it’s a sort of user-pays system. If parents want to give their children what they might perceive to be the “best education”, then they’d be willing to pay the extra amount (they’re paying some of the highest fees already). And if they’re not, then at least the less costly alternatives will be able to offer a better quality of education with the extra funding received.

I know who I’m voting for come October.