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.
I think current policies on education funding do discriminate against parents who choose private schools, treating them less favourably primarily because of their religion but also more generally for not sharing the ideology of public schooling. The question is whether there is a public policy reason for this discrimination.
There is one I have some sympathy for: that the current system costs taxpayers about $5 billion a year less than either a fully public system or a full voucher system that gives every child the same taxpayer subsidy. On the other hand, we could apply the federal funding system to all schools and either pay less overall or use the money saved by spending less on public schools in wealthy areas to spend more on schools for poor people, whether they were public or private.
In conventional social democratic terms, that would be more equitable and probably achieve better educational outcomes, particularly if combined with other reforms of the public schools as suggested (pdf) by my CIS colleague Jennifer Buckingham. In conventional market choice terms it would be better as well, since all parents would be able to ‘afford’ private schools if they wanted to. But don’t expect to see policy change any time soon – with this proposal we would add parents wanting to minimise spending on their kid’s education to those ideologically committed to state education to create a formidable obstacle to changing the status quo.