My brother Chris, a high school teacher, and my mum, a school counsellor, often tell me about their experiences in the public school system. Bright kids, good teachers teaching excellent values all struggling with stretched budgets, unequal access to facilities and all the problems the private system doesn’t want.
So I sent this email to the PM (and my local Federal MP) today via the Australian Education Union’s excellent ‘For our Future’ campaign site which everyone should visit-
Please stop Federal funding of private schools and instead use that money to invest in public schools so that the educational and life outcomes of working-class and poor public school students are similar to those of rich children.
The gap between the life outcomes of poor, working class and indigenous Australians and those who are rich is a moral and ethical disgrace. Equality of outcomes is the only morally justifiable policy aim when one recognises the equal share that Australians have in our nation and its resources, and the innate human rights that Australians have as part of the human family. Government policy should be directed at not simply giving an equal ‘opportunity’ to all Australian children but actually taking responsibility for achieving equal outcomes, so that poor and working class kids can achieve their potential, and so that the Australian and world community can benefit from their development.
The major Government services of health, education, social security (pensions and unemployment benefits) and disability services are best placed to redress the inequality that results from our systems of production, and the historical inequality resulting from previous injustices such as colonisation, racial discrimination, sexism and discrimination against those with disabilities. Education is absolutely integral to the project of creating a fair and equal society, being the means by which children learn the languages, social and productive skills, analytical abilities and empirical knowledge required to negotiate their betterment and that of their families.
There is no justification for funding private schools for the already wealthy. As you said in parliament yesterday in relation to the private health subsidy- “someone who is earning $300,000 a year does not need a young apprentice, a worker in a shop or a worker in a factory to subsidise his or her health insurance”.
What is the difference, in principle, between subsidising a rich person’s private health care and their private education?
Comparable countries, such as France, Finland, the UK and US do not fund their private school sectors in the way Australia does. You would also be aware that Federal funding of private education was initiated by PM Sir Robert Menzies- as a political wedge to split the ALP over funding for Catholic schools. Those days are gone, and there is no justification, in a secular society, for public taxpayer money going to religious schools. This is of particular importance when we there are real community concerns about social solidarity and social fragmentation that are exacerbated by children going to schools that attract one ethnic group, one religious affiliation and one worldview.
The simple question is Prime Minister, why are non-religious taxpayers on $30,000 per year funding the religious education of people on $300,000 per year?
What policy aim does it serve for taxpayers to subsidise children being segregated into religious schools away from their non-religious or other-religion peers?
I would hope that Australian taxpayers would be funding the education of the neediest schoolchildren to the highest degree, and to the degree necessary that would eliminate discrepancies between the performance of the schools where mostly poor and working class children study and those which are populated by rich children.
I would hope that the policy aim of public funding is to encourage mixing of children from different religious and ethnic backgrounds instead of their segregation into distinct and separate groups, so that children can become familiar with people of all backgrounds and beliefs.
I would hope that the public schools of Australia would be given the opportunity to create the future generations of Australians who will continue our traditions of fairness and equality.
I look forward to your response to these issues.