Paper threatens free education

Since 1880, it has been a fundamental right of every Australian to access free public education.

Recently this came into question when a federal government discussion paper was leaked, which posed the idea of the federal government taking over education funding and charging wealthier parents who send their children to public schools.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne has come out in opposition to the suggestion, commenting on Twitter: “Charging wealthy parents for their children to attend public schools is not the government’s policy. I don’t support it.”

Meanwhile the Prime Minister’s department is keeping all options open in the consideration of reforms to school funding. Prime Minister Tony Abbott said it is up to states and territories to decide how they fund public schools.

ABS statistics say 35% of students attend non-government schools. The Abbott government has budgeted $15.7 billion to give to states and territories for schools in the 2015-2016 period, one third of which is allocated to public schools.

That means just over two-thirds of federal funding for schools is going to just over one-third of students in non-government schools.

Also mentioned in the discussion paper is a co-payment for education, similar to the GP co-payment put forward by the Abbott government last year.

Other suggestions for school funding overhaul include giving states and territories full responsibility for all schools, making states and territories fund public schools while the federal government funds non-government schools, and reducing federal government involvement in schools.

Abbott, Pyne and Treasurer Joe Hockey have ruled out the idea of means testing for public schools from being introduced as federal policy, but have repeatedly said that what states and territories choose to do with public school funding is up to them.

Abbott said: “I think it’s good that some of the states and territories at least are thinking creatively about how they can responsibly fund their operations.”

It appears that the suggestion is being held in front of state and territory governments, while the federal government can avoid all responsibility because it is not federal government policy.

However connecting the dots shows the Abbott government could cut federal funding to schools, possibly forcing the states and territories to consider a co-payment or means testing to cover costs.

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