Schools: government green paper controversy
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Last year the corporate-funded right-wing “think tank” the Centre for Independent Studies proposed that wealthy parents who send their kids to public schools be charged $1000 per child.
The proposal aimed to punish wealthy parents who failed to support the private school system and who were therefore “letting the side down”. It sought to grind public education further into the ground by encouraging high-income parents to put their generally high-achieving off-spring into the private education sector.
A leaked copy of the government’s Green Paper on Reform of the Federation, due for release shortly, has adopted the proposal within one of its four options for the funding of public education.
According to Fairfax newspapers, the green paper has four options:
• giving the states and territories full responsibility for all schools
• making states and territories fully responsible for funding public schools
• reducing Commonwealth involvement in schools, but without significant structural change
• making the federal government the dominant funder of all schools
The first three options follow the backwards-looking interpretation of the Australian Constitution under which the Feds remove or reduce their role in funding public schools. (See our publication Federation, the Constitution, Taxes and our Future for a full analysis of the government’s reactionary position on federation and government funding.)
The fourth option is the only sensible option among the four, namely, that the federal government be the dominant funder of all schools.
None of the states can match the capacity of the federal government for raising revenue. There is enough inequality between the private and public school systems as it is without adding another layer by making poorer states like SA and Tasmania have to keep up with the richer NSW and WA in raising revenue for public schooling.
Although the proposed public school fee for high-income families is believed to have originated with the CIS’s Dr Jennifer Buckingham, appointed by Pyne on June 1 to the new Board of AITSL which oversees the quality of teacher training, Pyne and Abbott had no choice but to quickly distance themselves from the proposal when it was leaked on Monday June 22 because they completely oppose the option within which it is contained.
Free and compulsory public education, once the foundation for the expansion of capitalism and a widely supported “public good”, is under sustained attack from free market ideologues who extol “school choice” and impose aspirational coercion on parents by entrenching inequality between public and private schools.
It is also under sustained attack from capitalists like Rupert Murdoch who see education as the “last frontier” for exploitation in the interests of private capital accumulation.
Unlike coal and old-growth forests, children are a renewable resource and huge international edu-businesses are competing for a share of the education dollar.
The only response by working people can be to keep the privatisation of public schooling at bay by insisting it remain, or return to being, free and available as a high quality service in local communities.
The only prospect for it being fully funded at the highest standard of quality is for the federal government to assume full funding responsibility through a taxation system in which the rich are made to pay.
The out-of-date and unworkable Australian Constitution which defines public education as a state responsibility must be scrapped and a new republican, democratic and anti-imperialist Constitution must take its place.
There is no future for a healthy public education system under capitalism.
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