Education Apologists

The other day when driving to work, I was listening to Matt-n-Dave the shit-stirrers on ABC 891. These guys seem to take it as their duty to give a hard time to everyone they interview, but especially politicians.

The other day, they made a passing comment about “Elite private schools” getting a slice of the cash being splashed at schools by the Rudd Federal Government.

The switchboard must have lit like a christmas tree. Of the callers who phoned in to complain, every single one had their hand out for private schools. One chap in particular was quite plain about his feelings and intentions:

“I send my children to a private school so they can get a better class of education…. and I pay my taxes so I should get some of this money being thrown around as well. And I find it objectionable that you refer to private schools as ‘Elite’.”

Fellow clearly didn’t understand the English language, and had an even smaller understanding of Moral Hazard.

It should be pretty clear that if he expects a “better standard of education” then that carries an implicit elitism. So why is he so sensitive?

Curious also that all callers seemed very defensive of “their right” to stick their hands into the taxpayer till. There was not a single defender of public education. All of those who called to whine were not doing so about the preceding interview with the various pollies and public servants, which was about how the money is being used. All hijacked the agenda.

But consider now, something a little more complex. Bear with me here.

Proposition 1: Education of children is compulsory. Our governments have deemed that children are to be educated, and in return that education is provided at no (or, in practice, extremely low) cost.

Proposition 2: Parents have choice and can choose to opt out of the government provided education system. By so doing, they elect a different provider and paywhatever the fees are, consistent with their choice.

When schooling decisions are made whereby a free choice is made to use a different provider, the use of government funds in addition to the private provider’s fee leads to a funding asymmetry. Or, to put it another way, if the private provider were to be funded on a per-head basis by the government in addition to fees, the result is more money per student than in the public system. We won’t even take into account the mandatory contributions to private school building funds. Although the government funding of private education is not at the same dollar-per-head rate as the public schools, the fees + government top-up still leads to the problem: funding asymmetry.

This is a form of Moral Hazard, and we can draw some analogies:

- Should people of private means also be allowed to take the age pension? (They [aid their taxes…)

- Should people who wish to use alternatives to mainstream medicine (pick your favourite example… Iridology, Homeopathy, etc) have those services provided at government expense as part of Medicare? (They paid their taxes…)

One can take these things further, into the realms of silly extremes, but the basis is simlar:

- Should people who work be permitted to collect unemployment benefits? Consider all the whining in recent years about the “cost of moving off welfare” and “welfare to work reforms”, which all involve exactly this issue.  (And remember… they paid their taxes…)

The answers to most of these questions are usually clear – until you find the devil lurking in the detail.

Returning to schooling though, the funding asymmetry becomes blindingly apparent when the private schools are compared to their poor cousins, the state schools. In a country where education is compulsory, the private apologists are obscene in putting their hands in the public trough. Public funding should go to areas of greatest need.

I challenge anyone to pay a visit to Salisbury East, or Elizabeth, or Davoren Park – and then explain why those schools should receive less money because some of it must go to private schools. I likewise challenge anyone to show me a private school that has not had some form of building improvement work done in the last 5 years. The funding asymmetry is in front of all our eyes. Open them.

3 Comments

Hmm . .I used to think that students in private/independent schools received a per capita amount from the Government. Turns out they don’t and Government funding to private schools has been steadily increasing. In fact by 2008 only 30% of the government’s planned expenditure was to be dedicated to 70% of the population attending Government schools . . .doesn’t seem fair at all. It was my choice to send my kids to a Catholic school so I paid the premium.

Comment by Baino | June 17th, 2009 7:11 am | Permalink

It is obscene and has always offended me. We have a public high school in our very street here but only FIVE PERCENT of the Flemington Primary School kids seem to make it across the road (quite literally) to send their treasures to the high school.

And why? Because kids from the housing commission flats go there, as do kids that are relatively newly arrived to Australia. Never mind that the school has fantastic teachers, great facilities and is within walking distance. These stupidly snobby parents would rather drive their kids across Melbourne to send them to nobby colleges in Hawthorn, Kew and Richmond.

I’m trying (just in conversations at the moment) to chat to the parents of Carly’s year (4) to guage whether if at least 10 families were willing to use the local school, it would perhaps encourage, say 15 or 20 the following year and so on.

In Adelaide, when we bought our place in Trinity Gardens in 2000, the local school was the place that everyone else avoided. Even families in our street (three away from the school)were driving their kids elsewhere. FIve years later when Carly started school, the place had 160 students. More families moving into the area, better sense of community spirit and the all-important Word Of Mouth meant that at the end of 2008 as we left to come to Melbourne, the school had 400 students and a waiting list.

Comment by Kath Lockett | June 17th, 2009 11:21 am | Permalink

Touchy subject you’ve raised here Wally. I agree that more public funding needs to go to the state schools. I went to a state school, primary and high school, my kids went to state schools in every state we lived in, primary and high schools. My grandchildren all went to state primary schools, one is now in the nearest state high school to where he lives, two are in private schools. My daughter researched several high schools, state and private, before making the decision to send them where they are now. She’s happy to pay the necessary fees and isn’t complaining about any government funding or lack of it. All the children are happy in their schools.
Kath, it’s hard to believe that there is still such snobby behaviour concerning housing commission kids. For heavens sake, they’re just kids and they have to live somewhere!

Comment by river | June 17th, 2009 6:29 pm | Permalink

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