Senator David Leyonhjelm

The Morrison government’s rethink on education the right one, but they need to go further

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While I applaud the Morrison government for rethinking education funding, this should represent the first step, not the last.

 

 

The deeply flawed system for calculating non-government school funding has squandered billions of dollars in middle and upper-class welfare over the years.

Thankfully, the Morrison Government has decided to switch from broad-brush census data to parental tax information to calculate the ability of families to pay for their children’s education in a non-government school. This represents a step towards the Liberal Democrats’ policy of means-tested school vouchers.

But the Government needs to go further.

Since 2001, funding for Catholic and independent schools has been based not on the average wealth of students’ parents, but on the average wealth of the suburb or region where the parents live. This has led to the bizarre situation where some of the country’s most expensive schools are deemed particularly needy because their boarding cohorts hail from low socioeconomic rural areas.

This includes hallowed institutions like St Joseph’s in Sydney’s Hunters Hill and Geelong Grammar in Victoria, where fees for non-boarders alone are in excess of $30,000 a year. Essentially, poor kids back home are leading to millions of dollars in additional funding for the kids whose parents can afford to pack them off to an exclusive private boarding school in the city.

That’s just one example from the widely criticised non-government school funding model that’s unique to Australia. No other country is as stupid when it comes to deciding how to carve up $15 billion worth of taxpayers’ money every year.

Income-based funding will improve the degree to which the funding of non‑government schools is needs-based. The schools educating poor kids will now get more than schools educating rich kids.

If every child attracted the same amount of funding via a school voucher system, irrespective of the category of school they attended, we would see greater competition between schools and more parental choice.

In addition to the switch to income-based funding, the Morrison Government has decided to direct the bulk of a $4.5 billion school funding boost to non-government schools. This will also enhance needs-based funding, because it offsets a rule in the current model which requires that a non-government school whose students are poorer and more disadvantaged than a government school receives only 80% of the funding of the government school.

Any move that whittles away at this baseless bias against non-government schools can only be a good thing.

However, the Government should go further and completely eliminate this rule. A non‑government school whose students are poorer and more disadvantaged than a government school should never receive less taxpayer-funding just because it is a non-government school.

The Government should also start funding government schools based on the income of parents, and rich parents who send their children to government schools should be charged meaningful school fees.

According to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, 50% of all families earning over $156,000 a year in NSW are now sending their kids to public schools, compared to 43.6% a decade ago.

A capacity to pay model, regardless of the education sector, is fair and would achieve more education bang for the taxpayer buck.

If every child attracted the same amount of funding via a school voucher system, irrespective of the category of school they attended, we would see greater competition between schools and more parental choice.

Instead of education being centrally controlled, vouchers would allow the money to follow the child and, in turn, give parents the freedom to choose between government and non-government schools.

A market-based approach to education that relies on choice and competition would give all schools an inbuilt incentive to perform, improve and change. With that, we might finally see an improvement in educational performance.

 

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