Rich families should pay for public schools

High-income families should pay to send their children to a public school, suggests a new report which warns that continually increasing funding to schools during the past 25 years had done nothing to improve student achievement.

The Centre for Independent Studies report says charging $1000 for each student at a public school who comes from a family with an income of more than $130,000 would allow governments to reduce the amount they fund many schools.

‘‘There would be little incentive for government schools to charge fees if it meant an equal transfer from public to private revenue, however if public funding were reduced as a proportion of private funding, it may be an attractive option,’’ the report said.

But David Zyngier, a senior lecturer in education at Monash University, warned that charging middle class parents to send their children to public schools would drive more into the independent sector.

‘‘This is just another ruse to force middle-class families out of the public school system,’’ Dr Zyngier said.

The report’s author, Jennifer Buckingham, said there was no immediate budget crisis but continually pouring more money into schools was not delivering obvious benefits and federal and state governments would need to rein in spending in the next decade.

‘‘If one family made a donation of, say, $1000 to their children’s public school, they probably wouldn’t see a great deal of difference in what the school can provide.

‘‘However, if quite a number of parents do, then all of a sudden you do see quite a substantial sum being available for that school to add to programs or their facilities,’’ Dr Buckingham said.

‘‘High-income families living in high-income areas in cities have access to some of the best public schools in Australia but they are not required to contribute to those schools.’’

Dr Buckingham said she was not ‘‘beating up some budget crisis or emergency’’ but one could emerge if spending continued to rise.

‘‘A pretty consistent finding in Australia and internationally is that there is no relation between the amount of funding that goes into schools systems and the level of student achievement in that system,’’ Dr Buckingham said.

‘‘We need to stop expecting that if we spend more every year, it will start to pay off because history suggests this is not the case - so we really need to look at the way the school funding is being spent and ask if it is being spent productively.’’

Dr Buckingham said governments could also make considerable savings if they removed mandatory class size maximums.

It is a very costly program without a great pay-off, Dr Buckingham said.

But Dr Zyngier said extensive research showed smaller class sizes had a profound effect on students throughout their school lives and they also had a significant impact for disadvantaged students.

Dr Buckingham’s report said government funding for schools had more than doubled in real terms over the past 25 years, while enrolments had grown by only 18per cent and funding for schools as a proportion of GDP had grown from 2. per cent to 3.1per cent over the same period.

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