By Marina Cameron
"Government schools will lose a potential $323.6 million over four years as a result of an accounting trick employed by the Howard government in order to disguise a broken promise", said Sharan Burrow, president of the Australian Education Union, on August 26.
The AEU says that when calculating the expenditure on government schools, the Howard government neglected to take into account any growth in expenditure contained in the forward estimates (around 5.7%). Thus the claimed increase in school funding of 5% is in fact a cut.
In addition, the budget papers use the actual expenditure from last year, when government schools under-spent by $43.9 million, to make the claimed increase look bigger.
Even according to government figures, the increase to non-government schools (6.1%) is nearly double that allocated to government schools (3.8%). The government also removed restrictions on where new schools could be set up; now non-government schools are lobbying for more money to cope with expected increases in enrolment.
Enrolment in private schools is expected to increase from 29.4% to 31.1% by 2000. Each student who moves from a public to a private school will save state governments $3245. The federal government will automatically claim more than half this cost ($1700) for each student who shifts, putting the pressure on the states to rapidly sack teachers and close schools to make up the money. The new arrangements are expected to bring in $120 million for the federal government over the next three years.
Resistance high school activist Paul Howes told Green Left Weekly, "The government is clearly pursuing a long-term agenda of privatising education. What began under Labor is a system of running down the public education system and then providing huge subsidies to private schools when parents move their children where they think they will get a better education. The fact is that not all families can afford to do this and students will be stuck with less teachers, less schools and less support programs for the disabled and disadvantaged.
"Students, teachers and parents are all very angry about the declining public education system. Cuts won't stop here. We have to fight for the right to an education at school and also further at university."