Funding of Schools

Abstract: In this article, Ben Mettes, Managing Director of Quintessence, discusses how the education system in Australia is changing as the Federal Government adopts new rules regarding funding of schools. Ben also points at some fundamental problems associated with the education system, such as the fact that it goes hand in hand with the Government.

At school, Ben argues, a mathematical principle is often taught to enable students to master all kinds of related exercises. The exercises stand or fall with the principle. If the principle is wrong, the time spent on exercises is largely wasted. So, asks Ben, what if the principle of school as a system is wrong? Homeschooling can give families more choice in curriculum and educational environment, but the education system influences society to such extent that it is hard to escape its grip. The issue goes well beyond discussions about educational methods.

Dictatorship is not a value we like our children to aspire. The quintessence is that school is based on coercion and this is why school is per definition wrong. At present, there may be few alternatives to school, but we should look forward to a future in which school is less prominent.

A. The Education System

What is education? Education is a monster created by law. As an example, copyright law is enforced throughout all sectors of society, but there are special privileges for educational use. But copyright law does not bother to specify what is education, it leaves it up to the Government to work that out. The background behind this is that the Government as a whole and in a broad sense, i.e. including its parliamentarians, judges and bureaucrats, wants to be above the law. In the above example the Government places itself above copyright law, but more broadly both the law and the education system are key instruments used by the Government to control society.

There are many ways in which the education system moulds society into the shape of its dictatorial master, i.e. the Government. Not only is compulsory school attendance expressing dictatorial values, many aspects of the school curriculum are intended to indoctrinate and teach children how to walk in line with dictatorial instructions. As schooling is in many respects compulsory for a certain age group, it is hard to escape the wrath of schools. But the Government also controls educational qualifications, that determine not only progression within the education system, but also who is allowed to exercise certain professions and who is allowed to fulfill certain occupations and positions. Furthermore, the Government's funding of its preferred institutions makes it hard for alternatives to emerge.

B. New Funding Rules

In Australia, the Federal Government has proposed to change the way funding is allocated to schools. The result will be that schools can be set up more easily with the help of government funding. Many welcome this change and argue that it will now finally be possible to set up schools in the way they want. Examples are schools for children that have special talents, schools that teach in other languages than English, schools set in a rainforest environment or schools that emphasize specific subjects and topics.

Many also look forward to more schools of distance education. In Queensland, parents are not allowed to teach their own children, unless these parents happen to be qualified as teachers and registered as such in Queensland. Nevertheless, the law allows for children to be educated at home, as long as they are supervised by a teacher who may be operating from a school of distance education. Until now, it was hard to set up a new school, but the new rules may make it a lot easier.

C. What is Education?

So, what again is education? As such new schools emerge, the question what subjects they teach will become more prominent. At present, there is little difference between schools. Any differences are more in the way schools are run, their approach to discipline, the uniforms pupils wear, etc, than in the subjects they teach. The questions what is a school, what is a teacher and what are children supposed to be learning, do not seem to bother many people at present. But as more people ask such questions, it will become clear that the education system is essentially a creation of the Government, with all the associated shortcomings.

One of the most fundamental shortcomings of the education system is its built-in coercion. At school, a mathematical principle is often taught to enable students to master all kinds of related exercises. Even if the students do not understand the principles, they will get accustomed to the idea that the exercises stand or fall with the principle. Many children as well as their parents are convinced that, if the principles that are taught at school are wrong, the time they have to spend on exercises will be largely wasted. As comparisons between schools become more prominent, more people will wonder about the fundamental principles behind school as a system. What if the principles of the education system and the Government in general are wrong? Then the entire time spent at school may well be wasted!

D. Alternatives

Such questioning of school may make people think about alternatives. Some families welcome the funding changes that are proposed by the Federal Government for education. They expect that it will lead to more opportunities for distance education and for visiting tutors. Others propose vouchers to be issued to each individual child, rather than that schools are funded directly by the Government. Vouchers seem to put a greater amount of control in the hands of families. But vouchers still require an administration to work out who gets how much money and to approve how such vouchers can be used.

An interesting question is whether the changes constitute an extension of school funding by the Government and thus educational control by the Government. On the one hand, the Government seems to increase funding of private schools. On the other hand, the result may be a shift in the proportion of children attending schools away from schools that are fully funded and controlled by the Government, to schools that are less funded and controlled by the Government.

Some homeschoolers reject any government funding, as the bulk of the Government's money is extracted from people under duress, by means of the coercive taxation system. They argue that condoning such practices is teaching children the wrong values.

Funding of schools by means of taxation is just one of the coercive issues associated with the education system. The education system influences society to such extent that it is hard to escape its grip. Not sending one's children to school is a somewhat empty gesture if one on the other hand accepts the perceived value of educational qualifications such as diplomas certified by some kind of authority. In many ways, the reach of the education system goes well beyond teaching and learning, and shapes people's life from cradle to grave. Midwives and doctors that assist with one's birth must be educationally qualified, while priests also receive substantial education before they come to one's death-bed.

Some families go to extreme lengths to reject society as it is organized by the Government. They choose for home-birth, without assistance from formal doctors. They go to practitioners of alternative medicine. They avoid contact with the establishment as much as possible, living on the land, growing their own food, bartering with like-minded families, rather than using money. Their children do not join formal activities, such as sport and dance courses, because such courses follow the very school model of structured lessons, with one teacher supervising a group of students and with rules and regulations that have to be obeyed "or there will be no diplomas!"

Of course, there are many different reasons why people choose for homeschooling. And there are many definitions of homeschooling. Many families are happy with distance education and even with small schools that they can have more control over as parents. They will generally welcome these changes in funding. They welcome smaller schools and more active parental control over curriculum as well as over operational aspects of school.

E. Conclusions

Many welcome the proposed changes to the way schools are funded, but a more fundamental discussion is whether the Government should have any role in education. Most people will agree that dictatorship is not a value children should aspire or be taught. But clearly the education system is founded in dictatorship and imposes dictatorial values in many ways on the entire society. The quintessence is that school and coercion go hand in hand. Therefore, school is not likely to survive in any future that is more sincere about rejecting dictatorship. As alternatives to school become more popular, future times will emerge in which school becomes less and less prominent.

Appendix: Changes in funding Australia's schools

In Australia, the Federal Government is changing the rules regarding schools. The Government uses complex calculations to fund education. Schools are categorized on a scale of one to twelve. Private schools are allocated annual grants of between $700 and $5000 per student, depending on the school's category. As an example, the Whitsunday Anglican School had grown and had recently shifted from category three to category seven, meaning increased funding by the Federal Government, which has promted the school to cut its fees, i.e. parents will have to pay less. The average low-fee independent school sits in category six to ten and receives between $1700 and $2500 per student annually. The system is based on perceived social need. Exclusive private schools typically get only category one funding of $700 per student.

The Federal Government will now allow non-government schools to bid for the same levels of federal funding as government schools. The State Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Bill will come into effect on 1 January 1997. This will remove the restrictions on setting up new non-government schools. Under the old rules, there were restrictions on the level of funding for non-government schools and on the number of new non-government schools that could be established with federal funding. Furthermore, only schools within a specific range of enrollment numbers could get such funding. In Victoria, for example, new government schools could not open unless there was a minimum of 400 students at secondary level or 200 students at primary level. Under the new rules, any non-government school, even with only 10 primary students or 20 secondary students, will be able to receive federal government funding.

Private schools typically depend more on tuition fees that they charge to parents than on funding by the Government. However, a substantial amount of private schools manages to keep fees low, especially for younger students. In Queensland, fees of under $1200 a year are not exceptional. In Sydney, the Richard Johnson Anglican School charges $475 a term for each of its 30 primary school students. As a category 10 school, federal funding of $1713 a year will be received per student to top up these low tuition fees. A category 10 school typically receives 35% of funding from fees and 65% of funding from the Government.

These changes in the Federal Government's funding policy should not be seen as a mere extension of the Government's financial grip over education. The situation is a bit more complex. The Queensland Government spends $3893 per primary student and $5463 per secondary student who attends public schools. The State Government saves such an amount for each student who changes from a public school to a private school. However, the cost was partly paid by the Federal Government. Under the new federal rules, if students shift from a government school to a non-government school, a complex formula is invoked to allocate funding. The Federal Government measures the relative proportion of enrollments at government schools versus enrollments at non-government schools for each State and when that proportion shifts in favor of non-government schools beyond a certain benchmark, the Federal Government will reduce payments to government schools at an amount of $1712 per student. At present, the 1996 proportions are used as a benchmark, in which there are about 70% of students at government schools and about 30% at non-government schools. Note that States in Australia also contribute funding to non-government schools. In 1994, State funding amounted to 11% of total funding of non-government schools, with private funding and federal funding sharing the remainder about equally. By comparison, parents are charged around $1000 a year for distance education in Queensland.

More important than the financial background is that the new federal rules will make it easier for new, smaller schools to compete with the schools run by the State Government. In particular schools of distance education should be able to compete well financially and may even adopt the practice seen in some places overseas, where families are sometimes paid for enrolling their children such schools. This may also open new alternatives for homeschoolers, since the law in Queensland allows for exemptions to compulsory school attendance if children are enrolled at a school that offers a course by distance education. Such a school can be either a State school or a non-State school.

As mentioned before, the rules are quite complex, not entirely clear and they keep on changing, so people who want more details are advised to check other sources. But it appears that the new rules will enable anyone who is registered as a teacher in Queensland to open a small school of distance education and apply for federal funding, while children who are enrolled at such a school will be exempt from compulsory school attendance. As there are many teachers who support natural learning and other methods that require minimal supervision by the teacher, it seems likely that such schools will emerge, not merely for financial reasons, but also to help out families who currently find it hard to comply with the Queensland's Government policy on homeschooling. Quintessence has tried to verify such conclusions with the Government, but the Queensland Government does not seem willing to discuss such matters. So, once more, anyone who wants to try it out is advised to check developments, as the new rules become law.

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