Hear Ye! Since 1998.
Please note: This post is at least 3 years old. Links may be broken, information may be out of date, and the views expressed in the post may no longer be held.
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.

This post has 3 comments

1.  Shish

I’d be interested to know how many private school ex-students and past/present parents actually support reducing federal funding for their schools.

My guess: a significant number of parents, and a majority of ex-students. But maybe that’s my own bias talking. :)

2.  Pete

I can’t see how anyone can justify the increases that are suggested. Its another indication of how savvy a political operator Howard is, that he gets away with it.

I know who I’ll be voting for…

3.  Simon

For the record, i went to a private school and do support the cuts.

Anyways, just to play devil’s advocate for a second.

Firstly I agree that some (many?) private school are always trying to expand the school campus/provide more extra co-curricular activities, but obviously when it comes to such projects you dont just count the money you have at the beginning of the year and decide you want a new building and then it’s built in a year. What would be more likely to happen is that school’s have projected the budget in the next 5 years assuming they have the additional funding and then commit to a project. Obviously if the funds are taken away then schools would pass the difference into fees which its ‘customers’ would have to pay for – which of course is the situation they would like to avoid. . . so you *could* see it from this angle.

Secondly there is a certain danger and need for concern when schools start to run more like a corporate entity but the flip side is that its hardly surprising. Personally I dont think private schools are primarily concerned about education, they’re concerned about getting the edge with its competitors, they know rich parents are keen to seek out the schools that provide the best facilities, the best opportunities, the best tradition, the best social standing. Many private schools also want to make sure they win sporting events and inter school competitions to raise its profile and attract more people. (I know in my final year we provided a sports scholarship to an awesome rugby player from the country so we could win the premiership).

In the end any corporate entiity or business would get pissed off if funding for them were reduced because it levels the competition and from my perspective thats exactly what I’m viewing it as. I can totally understand the public pointing at fingers at private schools asking them to defend why they should get funding and say “we deserve a good education too”, but really its the wrong argument because its assuming that every school is firstly concerned with providing good education for every child in Australia. A business doesn’t care about the customers of its competitors, it just wants to draw more customers to itself – and as long as there’s alot of rich people out there they know there’s rich customers to be had.

Lastly, I think its interesting that people are voting soley based on this issue. (Or soley based on any single issue). It’s a bit like looking at computer A and computer B and deciding that you want to buy computer B because its the cheapest one.

I’m not trying to sway anyone’s votes, i just think that voting is important enough to warrant thinking through.

Add a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.