Are private school parents discriminated against?

less policy discrimination against private schools than in the past means that school choice is more affordable than it once was

My analysis last week.

…I do admire the particular locution you’ve used – “less policy discrimination” is a fine argument-begging way of saying “more subsidisation”.

Derrida Derider’s response.

I was wondering whether anyone would pick up on the way I put that point. On the federal government’s school funding policy, students at private schools get subsidies at somewhere between 13.7% and 70% of the government school rate, depending on the (presumed) socio-economic status of parents. So parents choosing private schools are financially treated less favourably than parents choosing government schools. Why is this not discrimination?

Often governments give more to people who have less, as they do with private schools. This is generally not seen as discriminatory, but rather making up for the disadvantage experienced by one group. But on this logic, well-off families who send their kids to government schools should receive less as well. According to the ABS, 8% of kids at government schools are from high-income households, while 16% of kids at independent schools are from low-income households. So the ‘to each according to need’ is not being consistently applied in school policy, and is only applied at all for private schools.

Most private schools are at least nominally religious, and as I noted in my post last week, attitudes towards religion are the only major difference between the school aspirations of parents of children at government and private schools. So those who want their children to receive a religious education are treated less favourably than those who want their kids to have a secular education. If you read the history of public education in Australia this aspect was much more open in the 19th century than today – Protestants, particularly, wanted to diminish the strength of the Catholic Church.
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I’ve long been in two minds about SMH economics columnist Ross Gittins. A couple of years ago I suggested that there were two Ross Gittins, the Saturday Ross Gittins whose column in the paper’s business section is often an easily-understood explanation of economic ideas and behaviour, and the Wednesday Ross Gittins whose column on the opinion page is regularly a Clive Hamiltonesque critique of modern society – we’d be better off working less, having fewer material goods, facing less confusing choice etc.

I think we need more writers like the Saturday Ross Gittins, demystifying economics and correcting mistaken ‘common sense’ economic reasoning. The boom in science writing for a general audience has not been matched by a boom in similarly-pitched economics writing, though books like Tim Harford’s The Undercover Economist and Steve Levitt’s Freakonomics have sold well (though the latter is not really about the economy as usually understood).

Whether we need more writers like the Wednesday Ross Gittins is another matter. As with the Saturday Ross Gittins, the Wednesday Ross Gittins is mainly a recycler of other people’s research, but usually of non-economists. But for some reason – perhaps because he is supposed to be an economics columnist, or maybe because many writers enjoy the pose of ‘dissent’ – the Wednesday Ross Gittins contrasts the view he is presenting with those of ‘conventional economics’, ‘economic rationalists’ or businesspeople. But, as is common in the anti-economics literature, these are never named economists or businesspeople. The smell of straw men burning comes from these arguments.

Both Ross Gittins are on display in his new book Gittinomics (extract here), which joins quackonomics as a play on Levitt’s Freakonomics. While there is not much conventional micro or macro economics to be found, there is interesting information to be found about what he calls ‘home economics’ – work, education, family, housing, health etc.
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