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Is the AEU beating a broken drum?

By Ian Dalton - posted Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The Australian Education Union has launched its Public Schools for Our Future campaign to coincide with the Federal Government's review of funding for schooling. We are told the campaign will include extensive television and newspaper advertising.

In launching the campaign AEU President Angelo Gavrielatos said that the campaign would see principals, teachers and parents working together, "to ensure the review received submissions from as many people as possible about the importance of investing more in our public schools."

In subsequent media comment Mr Gavrielatos said that the funding shortage in public schools is so severe that a recent survey of school principals found that many schools are now relying on fundraising to pay for such essentials as classroom equipment, library resources and textbooks, new computers and salaries of support staff.


We soon came to learn where the AEU believes the crux of the public schools' funding problems lies, when Mr Gavrielatos was reported in the media as saying, "The Commonwealth Government's funding system delivers two-thirds of the education budget to private schools that educate one-third of the students … This system has funding capped for students in government schools at $1000 per student, yet funding for students in private schools goes up to $7000 per student.''

This is a longstanding approach to the funding debate by the Australian Education Union and other public school idealogues; to cite whatever figures support the points they want to make and to ignore the rest.

The current systems that we have for funding schooling in Australia have evolved across almost sixty years. The systems are complex in the detail, but basically the situation we have is that the Federal Government has assumed the bulk of the responsibility for funding independent and Catholic schools, while state and territory governments have retained the greater share of the funding responsibility for public schools.

It is therefore disingenuous to make funding comparisons between the schooling sectors without taking into account this full funding picture. So why do the AEU and others persist in focusing on the Federal Government's funding of schooling, while ignoring the contributions of the states and territories?

The answer is pretty simple, really. It's because figures such as those quoted above (and carefully selected) by Mr Gavrielatos not only lose their sting if all government funding sources are taken into account, but the picture becomes very different.

The latest available figures published by the Ministerial Council on Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs show that in 2007-2008 an average of $12,639 was spent on the recurrent costs of educating each student in Australia's government schools, all of which was provided by the Federal and state and territory governments.


In comparison, an average of $10,893 was spent on the recurrent costs of educating students in non-government schools, including those students attending high fee independent schools. This figure includes an average contribution by parents and families of $4,286 (about 40 per cent).

Average recurrent expenditure per student in the government sector is $1,800 more than across the whole non-government sector. And yet, if the AEU's claims are to be believed the undoubtedly great outcomes being achieved by students in many public schools are mainly due to higher teacher workloads and an increasing reliance on fundraising by parents.

One has to ask why the AEU is not asking questions about why the already huge expenditure on government schooling is apparently so grossly inefficient in resourcing students and teachers. Do they expect governments to simply continue to throw taxpayer dollars at public schooling systems that are grossly inefficient?

There is no doubt that Australia needs a high quality, free public education system. However, if the Australian Education Union really wants the review of school funding to be useful and have an outcome that's in the best interests of the students attending government schools and their teachers then the debate needs to be informed by facts, not by the continued spreading of carefully selected funding figures that seek to lay blame with the non-government schools sector.

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About the Author

Ian Dalton is executive director of the Australian Parents Council, the national organisation that represents parents of students attending independent and Catholic schools. In this role he serves on a number of national schooling advisory groups and working parties.

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