Fair's Fair In School Funding

Conservatives claim to believe in equality. I'm sure they honestly think they do; it's just that they seem a little confused about what "equality" actually means. To them, it means literally providing the same opportunities to everyone. Take the issue of school funding.

Conservatives see nothing wrong with the government giving money to already wealthy private schools (not all private schools are wealthy, but the wealthy schools get their share of the booty). To them, the government providing annual funding of, say, $20,000 per student - whether that student attends The Kings School or Walgett Primary - is completely fair and equitable, because everyone's getting the same. It's so far from the truth.

The idea of equity is to redress the balance. Within reason, all kids should have the same opportunities to do well at school. The problem with funding every school child at the same level is that some kids start life at a huge disadvantage; they need more - more funding, more time, more support - to even begin to reach the same level. Where parents can't provide this, we as a society have to step in.

In most cases, a child who attends a private school - or even a primary school in a higher socio-economic area, where parental fundraising and involvement are valued - is at a huge advantage. They have parents who care enough about their education to pay for it, or at least help with homework, read books to their child, take them on outings, role model positive behaviours in going to work. For many disadvantaged children, they have none of those things. They might be growing up in a house where no one works; a house without books; a house without enough to eat. Think this only happens in a few rare circumstances?

The point is often made that parents who send their kids to private school are often not rich and shouldn't be penalised for spending their own money on a better education. But it's not penalising anyone to give a bit more to those who started out with less. No one has to send their children to private school. Some make the choice to do so because of religion, but most do so because private schools are better resourced. DH and I aren't rich and if we continue with our current careers, never will be. But BabyG has begun his life with a lot of privilege; the privilege of a white skin, the advantage of university educated parents, a house full of books, museum trips, outings. And we are planning on sending him to a private school. I believe the public education system needs to be far better resourced; but until it is, I'm not making my child a martyr to my ideals. He'll have wonderful opportunities; language immersion, science labs, medieval sword fighting is offered as a school sport.

Five minutes walk away from our intended school is a youth centre which does wonderful work with the area's children (inner city Sydney has areas of wealth and disadvantage in sometimes uneasy proximity). There are kids who attend who come from families where no one has worked in three generations; kids told at six years old if they don't shoplift the food, they'll get no tea tonight; kids told to stop wasting time at that bloody school anyway.

So. If the government is handing out this hypothetical $20,000 per head, who needs it more - their school or ours? Our school fees already cover the teachers and buildings. Our kids arrive at school usually already able to read and with homework help at home so they need less intensive classroom support. What should we spend our increased funding on - new grand piano for the orchestra perhaps? More swords?

Or perhaps they should take our share of the money and give it to the disadvantaged school. Hire an extra teacher's aide to help kids from families where no one can read. Extra books for the library cause they don't have any at home. Hiring the best teachers who can inspire a passion for education that will change these kids' lives. Hiring youth workers to work at schools to identify potential behavioural problems before they escalate, and put families in touch with support services. I think I want them to have our $20,000 instead.

We often bemoan families with generational unemployment, but the conservative approach is to remove benefits from the long term unemployed. By then it's often too late. We need to do more, start earlier, by redressing inequality from early childhood. Giving the same to every child fails to acknowledge that there are some kids who start life with a hell of a lot less, and they need to be given more, to even approach a sense of fair. It's much cheaper to provide services when a child is in primary school than to lock them up as an adult. Wouldn't we all prefer that the kid from the disadvantaged home was given the opportunity to grow up to repair cars rather than breaking in to them?

What's equal is not always what's fair. Failure to acknowledge this is letting us down as a nation, and it's a failure of social justice.

Comments

  1. Under Liberal philosophy, it's right for a millionaire to be jealous of someone on unemployment benefits.

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  2. "Giving the same to every child fails to acknowledge that there are some kids who start life with a hell of a lot less, and they need to be given more, to even approach a sense of fair. It's much cheaper to provide services when a child is in primary school than to lock them up as an adult. Wouldn't we all prefer that the kid from the disadvantaged home was given the opportunity to grow up to repair cars rather than breaking in to them?"

    THIS! This so much. We have just been faced with the public/private option as one child moves from primary to high school. Luckily we could break from the now rigid school zones (even though the out of area school is geographically closer). If we had to go to the zoned school our daughter would have gone private. Even though it goes against all my political views and the fact I am the result of public education and the child of public sector educators, both school and uni.

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  3. While I agree that education needs more funding, think of the ramifications if funding was taken from private schools. Fees would increase, people wouldn't be able to afford it, more students flocking to public schools. Would the public system cope?

    Life isn't fair, but sometimes more money isn't going to change people's attitude either. The poorer families aren't going to suddently get rich and send their kids to school because the local public school got more funding.

    But as I said, a lot more money needs to be spent on all levels of education (ELC to university).

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  4. Of course it's not a simple matter of public versus private. But I do believe wealthy private schools should receive less funding. If it means they increase their fees, that's up to them. Or maybe they could look at reducing their number of rowing coaches. Public schools are constantly being asked to cut costs; the same is rarely asked of private schools.
    And if the funding was redistributed then there might be more students at public school - but those schools would get the increased funding. It would also end the resource drain that is a reason some send their kids to private school in the first place ("the local school is terrible and the parents don't care so we go private").
    It maybe true that there are some kids who can't be helped no matter what resources are in place but I don't want to be part of a society where we don't even try.


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