The money for schools must come from parents

Exciting momentum was generated by the Gonski report on the funding of schools, but now the matter is wallowing in troubled waters. The impetus is in danger of being lost. Like a new toy without a battery, educators are left with a handful of promises.

An unholy trinity of factors has blocked the Gonski reforms. They are money, money and money. Adding to government inaction are the escalating costs of the funding recommendations. If implemented in 2014, they will cost more than double the $5 billion Gonski asked for this year. There are also grumbles from state and territory governments, the Catholic education sector and a number of schools that have calculated they may get less funding in real terms.

So what can be done? The great temptation is not much - except whinge a bit and wait for a change in government. However, a change in government will not solve the problem. Whatever government is returned must make the proper funding of schools a priority - particularly of under-resourced schools. Someone has to work out where Australia can find some serious extra money.

The anti-independent school lobby - the Greens and the Labor Left - will suggest what they always suggest: take more money from the well-resourced schools. This is the politics of division and will not work.

If the fiscal raid on well-resourced schools was reduced to a politically acceptable level, the initiative would probably yield a fraction of the funding needed. This option won't work. We need to find a new source of funding.

In order to decide where some of this extra money might come from, it is useful to return to basic principles. Those that pay should be those that use. In this case, it is the parents who have a child in an Australian school. Any school. Expostulations about education needing to be free are now inappropriate. Our education is not free and has never been. Someone always pays.

The presumption of free medical cover was removed with the introduction of the Medicare Levy by the Fraser government in 1976. The presumption of free education must also be removed.

To propose a further tax is fraught, but it is time for an Educare levy on the parents of school students, particularly on those who are better off. More than 60 of the 100 wealthiest school communities, as shown on the 2009 My School website, were state schools. Most children in selective schools are from higher-earning families.

Not withstanding this week's Robin Hood budget, richer parents should pay more towards schooling of their children. Poorer parents should pay nothing.

The Educare levy should be paid by parents, irrespective of whether they send their children to a state, Catholic or independent school. The fee would be paid per child and be payable only when a family had a child at an Australian school. Australian taxpayers begrudge paying any tax, but if there is sympathy for anything soaking up their taxpayer dollars, it is education.

Of course, money alone will not fix the ills of Australian schools. Principals need greater autonomy, more professional development and increased accountability.

Long-service leave should be turned into study leave. Retraining teachers should be a paramount concern. And they should be paid more.

We cannot fix problems that will not go away by looking for solutions in the same barren places we have looked before. We need to stop wallowing.

Dr Tim Hawkes is the headmaster at The King's School.

-National Times

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