Free public schooling for all ‘unfair’

Free public schooling for all ‘unfair’

Should schooling be means-tested like most other government services?

That’s the opinion of Blaise Joseph, an education policy analyst at the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS), who says parents in low-SES areas are unfairly disadvantaged.

Joseph says it is unnecessary to constrain public schools from receiving significant and compulsory contributions from high-income parents, arguing that this means much more taxpayer funding than needed is spent on many public schools.

“Let’s end the façade that all government schools have no capacity to charge fees and are in desperate need of taxpayer funding,” he told The Educator.

“Surely millionaires can pay for their children’s education without the assistance of the taxpayer?”

However, Joseph pointed out that the financial benefits of government schools charging compulsory fees for high-SES parents would vary depending on the amount charged.

“Any compulsory fee should be relatively low compared to non-government schools. Many government schools already ask for voluntary and subject-based fees, but these are inconsistent and often aren’t a reliable source of income,” he said.

“An advantage of charging compulsory fees for high-SES parents is an additional consistent, reliable flow of funding. This could make many government schools, at least to an extent, less vulnerable to changes in government allocation of funding.”

He added that state education departments would also be better able to allocate money to the schools which need it most, since schools with higher-SES demographics would be enabled to receive compulsory contributions themselves and over time require less taxpayer assistance.

So could this proposition gain political traction in the foreseeable future?

Joseph said that this is consistent with fiscal responsibility and needs-based school funding, both of which are continual policy aims of the states and territories.

“In a time of budget deficits and alleged widespread underfunding of the public system, charging compulsory school fees for high-SES parents could potentially receive some consideration from state governments and education departments.”

However, he pointed out that in the case of the latter, they would need to be “open to questioning the general assumption of universal free public schooling”.

“Critics are most likely to argue that universal free public schooling is an important principle of education equity, and an essential role of government is to provide schooling for all,” he said.

However, any compulsory public school fee for high-SES parents would be relatively low, would not inhibit anyone at all from being able to afford schooling for their children, and is “simply a common-sense move” to reduce the cost to the taxpayer.”

Education academic, Dr Emma Rowe, from Deakin University, told Fairfax that parental contributions at public schools contributed to the growing inequity gap because schools in high socio-economic areas could boost their resources significantly through well-off parents.

“I think parental fees should be regulated because at the moment government policy discourages equity and that inequity will keep growing if you have parental fees that are uncapped,” Dr Rowe said.

Dr Rowe, who recently published research that found the most popular public high schools and their strict catchments create a cycle of segregation, said parents were prepared to fork out for the best schools, even if that meant paying fees at “good” public high schools.

“I have found in interviewing parents for my research that choosing schools is one of the top stressors for families,” Dr Rowe said.

“Often if you have the money, you can get the very best public school for free because parents spend their money on moving into catchments.”