Philanthropy and Public Schools
This article by Catriona Fay touches one area of the Gonski Report that has been largely overlooked. While many of us have concerns about the movement of philanthropy into education funding based on the unhealthy and undemocratic influence of the Gates, The Walton Family and others in the US and would also not like to see large cash injections leading to a Government retreat from funding responsibility it is important that public and non government schools are not unequally placed re access to philanthropic funds

Three Eggs

In the 24 hours since its release the public response has been mostly positive to David Gonski’s comprehensive report on the funding of Australia’s schools. The independent and catholic school systems, state education proponents and unions are all urging the Gillard Government to act on the recommendations of the report. With 5 billion extra dollars being earmarked by Gonski to fund his reforms it’s not all together surprising.

One of the big surprises falling from the report was the focus on the need for greater partnerships between schools and philanthropy. The recommendations equally acknowledge the role philanthropy plays in our communities and the need to better equip schools to access that funding. We’ve raised some of the issues facing philanthropists wishing to support schools in a previous post and it was great to see some of the important voices on the issue, Ros Black, Michelle Anderson, Philanthropy Australia, Brian Caldwell…

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Not waiting for Gonski, Gillard or Garrett

For a moment in time the response to the Gonski Review Report and its launch by Garrett and Gillard was the talk of the nation – even eclipsing the leadership challenge and trending as the number one twitter in Australia.  But now that the excitement has died down I am left wondering what will change.

I think we are being told that the Gillard and Garrett have ‘rolled up their sleeves’, set up the committees and plan to negotiate with states through COAG.  And IF states can find 70% of $5 billion, the Commonwealth will look at providing the other 30%.

But I am left thinking the following:

  • Even with the best will in the world (which we know is absent), states do not have revenue flexibility to even consider this- they are reliant on GST and Commonwealth Grants Commission funding for their base revenue.
  • I can see states saying – “hang on a minute the Commonwealth created this problem by  investing in the non-Government sector in a way that led to increased education inequality in Australia”.  They did it  in a way that led to a dual stream education system unlike any other successful country.   They created a context where it seemed normal that: the taxes from everyone should be used to subsidise choices only those with a good income can afford; and where funding for choice undermined funding for equity and created an SES segregated schooling system  This would be considered an outrage in most OECD countries. Yes it was another political party who created the damage – but the Commonwealth is still responsible.
  • I can also see the states saying – you (the Commonwealth) created this problem by promising that no school would lose a cent in per student funding.  Without this stricture the Gonski Review Committee would have been able to develop policy options that did not necessitate an additional $5 billion

So what has been gained?

In one sense quite a lot.

The process has thoroughly exposed the funding policies of the Howard years to be terrible policies that: wasted money; undermined  funding directed to education equity; did not lead to a reduction in fees – quite the opposite;   and were without any sound evidence base whatsoever.

And Richard Teese, the silence from the independent lobby groups to your leaked secret report  suggests that your report  successfully brought together data that could not be argued away and  powerful arguments about the impact of rampant parent choice policies on those wo cannot choose.

I do think that the threat factor of offending the powerful NG sector has been reduced at long last, but not forever I suspect

The proposed way forward outlined in the Gonski Report is generally accepted as a sound way forward. No-one is 100% satisfied.  I am among the many who would have preferred a tougher approach to those schools who charge exorbitant fees  along the lines suggested by Dr Jim McMorrow and Lyndsay Connors, but this would never have been politically doable.

But apart from Christopher Pyne and Kevin Donnelly  there is a sense that this Report treads carefully through the political and sensitive minefield and carves out a direction that, if taken, will establish a robust, transparent  and fair funding regime for Australia’s schools.

If the Government won’t react the public must – this is not a moment we can afford to waste.  And leaving it to the AEU is not good enough!

There are many organisation and individuals already working on this issue besides the AEU.  Surely the time is ripe for all the individuals and groups to form a broad coalition to agitate collectively for the Commonwealth to commit the $5 billion required for this and to not waste time in a futile effort to push states to cough up.

According to Andrew Thompson Australia spends about 5% of GDP on education and is ranked 58th globally  “If we gave ourselves a grade for spending on education, we’d get a ‘C’.” Given our robust economy relative to other countries we could afford to move up to at least a ‘B’ grade. After all we are told that the potential return on investment for wise spending in education is very significant.

I know there are many willing to join such an effort.  I retired on Friday 17th February 2012.  One of my motivations for doing to was to free myself to work on this issue.  I welcome suggestions and feedback about next steps.

References

Jim McMorrow and Lyndsay Connors, New Directions in School Funding: a Proposed Model, University of Sydney, 2010

Available at

http://sydney.edu.au/education_social_work/professional_learning/resources/papers/ConnorsL_&_McMorrowJ_10_New_Directions_Schools_Funding_Proposed_Model.pdf

Richard Teese, From opportunity to outcomes:  The changing role of public schooling in Australia and national funding arrangements, September 2011. Available at

http://www.aeufederal.org.au/Publications/2012/RTeesereport2012.pdf

Andrew Thompson, What’s it worth to you: Part 1 lies, dammed lies and statistics, AmplifiED, 2011

Available at

http://amplifi-ed.com/articles/education-–-what’s-it-worth-you-part-1-—-lies-damned-lies-and-statistics