Wednesday, September 15, 2004

My schools funding rant

The ALP's school funding policy released yesterday managed to get second billing behind the hostage news stories. I'd be interested to know whether the ALP are happy with the reduced profile of the policy release, and to what extent this is of benefit to them.

At any rate, there were certainly ideological tensions ahoy evident in the reactions to the policy.

One private-school loving family, interviewed on 7.30 Report last night, was asked whether or not it supported the diversion of funds away from outrageously wealthy schools (schools with rifle ranges, archivists, vast playing fields, advanced human cloning programs, secret underground lairs… well maybe not those last two):

TRACY BOWDEN: Do you feel comfortable with that idea, that your school, already a very wealthy school, gets additional funds from the taxpayer?

CONNIE THERKILDSEN: Well, yes I do.I pay my taxes like everybody else does and every child has the right to a good education and I don't see that my children have any lesser right than any other child.

To be honest, I just don’t get it! How can you honestly believe that equalising the wealth and resources of schools is somehow evidence of a plot to remove your child’s right to ‘a good education’. I really am flabbergasted – but then they showed footage of her delivering her kids to school in a four-wheel drive and everything fell into place.

Seriously though, if Connie thinks that “every child has the right to a good education”, then surely she can see the sense in distributing funds to the schools that need it most, so that these schools can achieve that very result!

Someone needs to tie her down and yell in her face “the wealthiest schools already have well enough resources! Public money is scarce! We need to send it where it is most needed!” I am quite happy to volunteer for this job.

Its quite obvious this kind of ‘equal funding for my rich little kiddie – we shouldn’t be disadvantaged just coz we are rich’ argument is operating on a model of ‘formal equality’.

That is, equality = giving every school the same amount of money and thereby turning a blind eye to their pre-existing position or level of need. It takes me way back to uni, and the perpetual struggle of male students against the Women’s Room ("real equality means having a Men’s Room’ too"). Ahhh, memories.

My ranting aside, the story gave a very strong sense of the ideological battle which is attached to debates about school funding.

This funding package is being sold by some as an attack on private schools (see ‘Latham guts private school cash’). It really isn’t, and in it we can see a real pitch to ‘aspirational’ voters.

So much of the redirected funding will go to low-fee independent (mostly Christian) schools. These are the schools which are popular among the outer-suburban, ‘mortgage belt’ types, who are of real importance to the ALP’s chances (or so I'm led to believe).

The Government’s response has been to suggest that the ALP’s policy will reduce parents' choice, by making it harder to send their kids to the ‘elite’ (in terms of reputation I guess) schools.

Does this really wash with people? This statement, from one of the parents interviewed on the 7.30 report, had me yelling ‘right on!’ at the telly, something I normally only do when the bitchiness starts on Survivor:

JANE CARO, PRIORITY PUBLIC: Parents are starting to believe that in Australia, unique almost in the Western world, they are going to have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to educate their child properly.

This is not true, but the more people who believe it, the more governments exploit that belief, the more likely it is to become true.

And then they have the nerve to talk about choice? Is this just another crazy-brave attempt by the Government to try and convince us they are tree-hugging, Medicare loving softies and we should really ignore all their past policies as not really being true?

I really hope the ALP comes back strongly to rebut the Government’s silly arguments (I'm sure they can come up with some ingenious illustrative phrase - something about opportunity, and ladders perhaps). One gets a feeling that community attitudes on this issue are at a crucial point. A continuation of current trends would mean that it would be very difficult to ever restore the reputation of public schools. A re-orientation of policy, along the lines of the ALP’s approach is a good start, but not strong enough for me.

I thought I’d finish off with a diverting link. Check out this list from Crikey! It sets out some famous alumni from Australian schools. See who is listed for your school! I was quite surprised to see that both Antony Green and I experienced the joys of an agricultural education…


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