The Australian Education Amendment (Direct Measure of Income) Bill 2020 is a $3.4 billion handout of public money to private schools. It is yet another instance of the Liberal and Labor parties working to please the private school lobby at the expense of public schools.
The Bill fails to take into account the actual needs of Australian students, schools and communities. The Bill changes will increase Commonwealth recurrent funding for non-government schools from $13.1 billion in 2020 to $19.1 billion in 2029. This is yet another shameful display of the bipartisan commitment to entrenching educational inequality in Australia.
The Australian Greens support the universal right of every child to access education and believe that, with public money, the 2.5 million children in public schools have to come first. Public schools teach the majority of Australian children, including a majority of those who come from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. Handouts of public money to private schools like this Bill must be scrapped.
The $3.4 billion contained in this bill is additional to the $1.2 billion ‘Choice and Affordability’ slush fund for private schools, both of which formed part of the Coalition Government’s $4.6 billion special deal for private schools ahead of the 2019 Federal election.
This Bill will only serve to further increase the educational inequality gap in Australia, locking in private schools’ structural advantage in school funding all the way to 2029.
As the Australian Education Union (AEU) states in its submission, “The current situation with regard to the funding of school education is untenable. For decades it has been widely recognised that Australia’s school funding is among the most inequitable in the world” and “Recent years have seen the Commonwealth Government continually prioritise the appeasement of the Independent and Catholic school lobbies over the maintenance of the provisions of the Australian Education Act 2013.”
An ABC analysis highlighted the gross inequities in Australia’s education funding system. It showed 85 per cent of private schools receive more public funding than any similar public school, up from 58 per cent in 2009. The same analysis showed that the median funding gap has grown to a shocking $970 per student.
The Australian Council of State School Organisations noted in their submission, “that much of this bill is a special deal and we feel it undermines the principle of fairness we expect”. In their submission, Save Our Schools called the Bill a special deal for private schools and one for which the Commonwealth has provided no justification, saying “the additional $3.4 billion in funding for the switch to the direct income measure has all the hallmarks of another special deal for private schools.”
With this legislation the Government has once again passed up the opportunity to prevent 99% of public schools from being underfunded by 2023. In addition to overfunding private schools at the expense of public schools, the Liberal government has restricted federal funding for public schools to 20 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS). This is an untenable situation for public school students, staff and families, leaving them with no avenue for reaching 100% of the SRS.
While the Bill goes some way to improving the accuracy of the capacity to contribute score through a direct measure of income, its failure to account for the income, wealth and assets of private schools in assessing a school’s socio-economic status leaves it fundamentally flawed.
The Australian Education Amendment (Direct Measure of Income) Bill 2020 will leave Australia with decades more of unfairness because of special-deal politics rather genuine needs-based funding. Instead of focusing on lifting underfunded public schools to the national standard and the infrastructure and curriculum reform that can ensure an accessible, quality education for all our children, the Government is firmly in the business of placating the private schools lobby. This Bill should not proceed.
The Australian Greens thank all of the submitters to the inquiry, and acknowledge their efforts given the extremely short submission period. We maintain our disagreement with the decision to shorten the duration of this inquiry and the short time period allowed for submissions. Both decisions hampered the committee’s ability to consider this important issue in detail and unnecessarily restricted public scrutiny of this $3.4 billion handout of public money to private schools.
The Australian Education Amendment (Direct Measure of Income) Bill 2020 should not proceed.
Senator Mehreen Faruqi