Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The con job of "private" education

Let me start by saying that we sent both of our children to the local public school, and have never regretted it. It was well-resourced, although not to the level of elite private schools, one of which my wife attended.

I am concerned, however, at the trend towards greater federal funding for private schools. Public schools teach almost 70 per cent of the kids but now only receive 35 per cent of Federal education funding.

Yes, the state governments are responsible for funding government schools, but they also fund private schools. In SA this means that they pay for the School Card (a subsidy for school fees), for fee remissions (picking up the tab for non-payment of fees by non-School card parents), contribute towards boarding costs, pastoral care for boarders, Aboriginality, index of rurality for country schools, funding per student based on an index of disadvantage, special needs funding, plus a per capita grant.

Independent? No. Private/sectarian? Yes.

Surely the only obligation on government, as an executive of social responsibility, is to provide quality public schools throughout the community. If people wish to opt out of this, let them do so at their own expense.

Unfair? Hardly - or at least no less unfair than the social responsibility of governments to provide quality public roads.

No-one suggests that private roads be built at taxpayer expense for the drivers of luxury imported cars, or for left-hand drive vehicles, roads from which the Private Roads Board could exclude Toyota drivers and Datsun drivers. And imagine the public derision - comparable to that directed at the bunyip aristocracy in colonial times - that would erupt if our elite and sectarian car owners did start to duplicate the public road system!

But we let it happen with schools - the very institutions in which we impart our values of fairness and equity. And the real losers? Amongst others, and ironically, those very parents who succumb to the ideologies of "private is better" and "choice above all", and who pay, on top of their taxes, fees of hundreds of thousands of dollars that could be better spent, as someone pointed out, on helping children getting a start with a house or a career.

What a shameful con job is "private" education. And how contrary to the ideals of the great country I'm still proud to call "home"!

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