The latest conversation on the federal governments funding for private schools was kick-started by a hostile question on the left wing ABC program Q&A to the Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham. He was asked to justify how the government can generously fund wealthy private schools when there is so many disadvantaged students and schools. It was a loaded question, and rather than respond with the actual facts Birmingham, clearly wanting to placate a hostile audience, said that some private schools are over-funded and may need to take a cut under any new funding arrangements.
In the following days stories appeared on left wing news websites talking about the excess of elite private school funding from around the nation. The accusation of overfunding is not based on a per student funding criteria, it is based on special formulas for funding first based on the School Resources Standard (SRS) which was initiated by the Howard Government which includes criteria such as economic disadvantage. This has been superseded by the even more distorted Gonski School funding formula based on the Gonski Report that was tabled during Julia Gillard’s Prime Ministership, which suggested billions in extra funding for government schools to fix the so called ‘disadvantage’.
Private schools, or more specifically, ‘elite private schools’ as they are termed, are an easy target. The media reports on all the swimming pools and football fields these schools have and paint every student that attends these schools being born of massive wealth and as having parents who are part of the privileged upper class. These students are accused of having an unfair advantage over students who just happen to be born in low-income families, and that it is the role of government, as with so many other things, to correct this inequality. Private schools per student receive less government funding than government schools. Most of this funding comes from state governments who also run the large bureaucracy pervading the government system and where a lot of government money is wasted.
This is a false stereotype of the typical private school student. The majority of private school students come from middle or working class families. Both parents work and work long hours to have enough money to save for the private school fees, the reason being they want their children to have better opportunities than they did and receive the best education possible. This is not to mention that there are many students at private schools who are on academic and sports scholarships from lower income families. This is because the schools see potential in these students even though their parents can’t afford the fees but think it is beneficial for the school’s image and society to have these students at their school.
Believing that it is the role of government to correct educational inequality leads actually to worse educational outcomes. Believing that no student should gain an advantage in education based on who their parents are actually leads to education standards being aimed at the lowest common denominator. There are education equality advocates who believe it’s immoral for parents to read bedtime stories to their children, that private tutoring should be banned because students gain an advantage. Yes it is true some children will be disadvantaged based on their parents’ income, but that shouldn’t mean that parents with financial resources shouldn’t be able to obtain the best education for their children as possible. Society is benefited by having as many citizens as highly educated as possible, even if it’s only a portion of people the benefits from those citizens in their future employment and business abilities based from their education are spread throughout all of society. As people often say about socialism ‘we can’t all be rich so let’s be equally poor’ we could say about a socialist education system ‘we can’t all be highly educated so let’s be equally poorly educated’. An obsession with equality leads to poorer educational outcomes and prevents parents from being able to obtain the best education standards for their children they can find.
There is a second reason why there is such a hostility to private schools by those of the left. It is because parents can escape some of the left wing indoctrination that pervades all government schools. Many private schools are Christian schools, a faith which is despised by the left so they would like to do nothing more than weaken the ability of these schools to teach children about the Christian faith. Apparently it is wrong to brainwash children into a faith such as Christianity but perfectly acceptable to brainwash them into a worship of the state. Government schools are also used to push left wing ideas such as multiculturalism, environmentalism and radical sex education. The spread of the alleged ‘Safe Schools’ program designed to promote radical gender and sexuality theories to children is another blight on our government schools. Progressives hate the fact that parents can get their children away from this indoctrination to the private school system. They don’t believe that parents should have the right to educate their children according to their own values, only the state’s values are the ones that matter. In Australia private schools still have difficulty escaping all of this state indoctrination due to the government’s tight control over the school curriculum.
The state’s only role in education should be providing a level of funding that provides a basic education and ensures minimum standards. The most effective way this has been done in other countries is the school voucher system. This is where all schools are privately run however the government provides each parent with a government funded voucher for children and the parents decided which school to spend that voucher at based on that’s schools performance in different academic areas, sports and the arts. Because schools compete with each other it ensures that schools standards remain high as poorly performing schools will either have to improve or leave the market. The education bureaucracy is greatly reduced ensuring most funding is directly spent on the student. Charter schools in United States are funded by a school voucher system and they have greatly improved the educational outcome of disadvantaged students. However the school voucher system is difficult to introduce thanks to the powerful teachers unions as it means that their members, the teachers, will be subject to higher teaching standards and performance evaluation that comes with opening the education industry to market competition. But the focus should always be on what’s best for students, not what is best for special interests.
Do not fall for the spin the media is putting on the state of government funding for private schools in this country. Private schools are not rolling in government funding, more still goes to government school students. If you are worried about disadvantage it will not be fixed by enforcing equality in education which leads to poorer standards. Equality will be improved by allowing the benefits of market forces in the education system forcing all schools to improve their standards as well as giving parents rightful control over how their children are educated.