The Greens’ threat to education choice
Dr Kevin Donnelly
In an attempt to claim respectability and to convince voters that they are no longer a haven for aged hippies, eco-terrorists, pot smokers and socialists the Greens are keen to present themselves as politically mainstream and moderate.
Candidates are groomed and well dressed, Bob Brown plays the role of the elder statesman above the sordid business of doing preference deals with the ALP and politically risky polices related to gay marriage, legalising drugs and abortion on demand are downplayed in favour of saving whales, preserving old growth forests and ending junk food ads.
In relation to school funding, though, it’s obvious that the Greens Party is like a watermelon (green on the outside, red on the inside) and that it remains true to its left wing, counter-culture origins. As a result if, as expected, the Greens hold the balance of power in the Senate after the August 21 election voters, especially those with children in non-government schools, will suffer a rude awakening.
Given that it was political suicide running into the 2004 federal election, it’s no wonder that the ALP under both Rudd and Gillard have dropped Mark Latham’s hit-list of so-called privileged non-government schools. The consensus is that Australia has moved on from the bitter and divisive politics of class envy and bashing non-government schools and that every student, regardless of the type of school attended, deserves some level of government support.
Not so the Greens. Their education policy states, when in a position to influence government policy, that the Greens will push for “ending public subsidies to the wealthiest private schools”. Ignored is that the current SES model is needs based with wealthy non-government schools only receiving 13.7 per cent of the value of funding government provides to government schools.
Also ignored is that education is a fundamental human right and as all parents pay taxes, whether their children attend government or non-government schools, they are entitled to some level of government funding.
That Bob Brown’s party is fuelled by the backward looking, destructive politics of class envy is further illustrated by its call to penalise non-government schools by reducing the level of government funding to take into account monies raised locally via schools fees, fetes and philanthropic support.
The current SES model does not include private income when calculating the level of funding support to be provided by government on the basis that schools and their communities should be encouraged to raise money locally.
The existing funding model is one that links the amount paid to non-government schools to the amount received by government schools, ensuring that if the cost of education increases (measured by the resources required to properly fund government schools) then non-government schools receive additional support.
Not only does the Greens Party want to break that link, thus putting pressure on non-government schools to raise fees, but it also wants to force non-government schools to adopt, as a condition of funding, it’s ideologically driven, far-left social agenda in areas like homosexuality and the right to gay marriage. Currently, faith-based schools are exempt from anti-discrimination laws on the basis that freedom of religion is a core tenet of any democratic, liberal society and, as a result, schools must be free to employ staff that demonstrate a commitment to a school’s religious beliefs.
Section 63 of the Greens education policy seeks to deny such freedom when it states that independent, Catholic and other faith-based schools must no longer be able to “discriminate in hiring of staff or selection of students”. Taken to its conclusion, such a policy would force Christian schools to employ atheists and those whose lifestyle choices represent a direct attack on the morals and spiritual values embodied in the schools mission.
When she was Minister for Education, Julia Gillard argued that every Australian student, regardless of the type of school attended, deserved a level of government funding that guaranteed a well resourced, rigorous and balanced education. Not so the Greens. The education policy, dated March 2010, argues that “federal schools policy should prioritise the public education system” and that funding to non-government school must be reduced given what is described as the “excessive increases in Commonwealth funding to non-government schools in recent years”.
Such a policy, in addition to unfairly discriminating against non-government school students by treating them as second-class citizens and somehow less worthy of government support, is factually incorrect.
Instead of non-government schools being drowned by a tsunami of funds over recent years, as noted by Australia’s Productivity Commission, over the years 2003-04 to 2007-08 government funding to state schools increased in real terms by 1.6 per cent a year, while non-government schools only received an annual increase of 0.65 per cent.
Statistics prove that Australian parents are voting with their feet and choosing the non-government school alternative. 30 per cent of primary school students now attend non-government schools and at the secondary level the figure rises to over 40 per cent. Over the years 2004 to 2007 the number of students attending non-government schools grew by 21.9 per cent while government school enrolments flat lined at 1.1 per cent.
Instead of supporting this growth and parents right to choose where their children go to school, in addition to starving existing schools of funding, the Greens also want to stop new non-government schools being built. Signalling a return to the ALP new schools policy of some years ago, the Greens policy states that non-government schools cannot be established if they endanger the “viability and diversity of existing public schools”.
Forget that parents want to send their children to Catholic and independent schools because such schools provide a disciplined classroom environment, strong academic results and embody the types of values that parents most respect.
Even though the Greens is a minority party and will never have the numbers to form government by itself, given the likelihood that it will hold the balance of power in the Senate there is every chance that it will be in position to influence and determine government policy. The chance of the Greens implementing its policies in areas like school funding is even more likely if the ALP is re-elected as the two parties have signed off on a preference deal both for the Senate and for some 54 marginal lower house seats.
Dr Kevin Donnelly is director of Education Standards Institute. He taught for 18 years in Melbourne government and non-government schools and is the author of Australia’s Education Revolution: How Kevin Rudd Won and Lost the Education Wars and Dumbing Down : outcomes based and politically correct – the impact of the Culture Wars on our schools.