The Rudd Labor government has so far taken a hands-off approach to the issue of non-government school funding. Rhetoric and policy from the prime minister and education minister have been supportive of school choice and of non-government schools.
On the horizon, however, is a promised review of the major non-government school funding formula, and it is highly likely that reforms will be made to the school funding agreement for the 2013–16 quadrennium.
It is therefore important to reiterate the reasons for public funding of non-government schools, with a rational and ethical defence of non-government schools and their contribution to the public good and society.
- Non-government schools are educators of the public. They transmit to children the knowledge and skills they need to be active and productive members of society. On the available indicators, non-government schools’ academic and post-school outcomes are at least equal to government schools.
- Non-government schools play a role in democracy. Australian and US research provides no evidence that non-government school students and graduates are less tolerant or civic-minded. Indeed, the existence of non-government schools is essentially democratic because it empowers citizens. The religious character of non-government schools attracts criticism but much of this is unfounded.
- Non-government schools contribute to society. As well as the 1,700 systemic Catholic schools, many of which are less well-resourced than government schools, there are also dozens of independent schools serving some of the country’s neediest students—from children with profound disabilities to children in the most remote parts of Australia.
- Public funding of non-government schools gives parents choice. Without government funding, many non-government schools would not exist, and many children would have no education available to them. Likewise, denying public funding to non-government schools would effectively lock all but the wealthiest families out of school choice.
- Denying parents a choice in schooling is unjust. School choice is a moral and social equity issue. When schools fail, it is children and families that suffer most. Most people who are opposed to school choice would never accept the same limitations for themselves that they seek to impose on others.
- Basis for school funding. If parent income is the proper basis for school funding, then this should apply to parents of children in all schools.
- How to create equity in funding. The only way to create equity in funding, and end the long-running debate that pits sector against sector and shifts blame between levels of government, is to create a single funding source and fund children—not schools.
Jennifer Buckingham is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.