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End the Class Wars

Opinion article supplied to The Courier-Mail on 5 May 2017 – Not yet published

At the start of this year, a new school located in Alexandra Hills, called The Sycamore School, opened its doors to more than 50 children from Prep to Year 6. What’s unique about this school is that it caters specifically and entirely for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. On the other side of town, in Spring Hill, is a well-established school, Arethusa College, whose mission is to build back the confidence, self-esteem and learning capital of marginalised young people who have disengaged from mainstream schooling.

These two schools have very different student bodies and approaches to education delivery, but they share something in common; they are both independent schools - created by the community to serve the community. These schools don’t conform to the “elite sandstone private school” stereotype so commonly perpetuated by commentators like David Gillespie (The Courier-Mail, Opinion page, 5 May). Yet they and the children they educate are on Mr Gillespie’s “hit list” of 2,780 non-government schools; schools with students he believes deserve $0 in government support.

Imagine telling one in three children across this nation: “you are not worthy of investing in; your government believes in the future of the child living down the street, but not in yours”. That is the message that the parents of children in non-state schools hear when commentators call for governments to abandon funding support for them. Such “class warfare” rhetoric, like the “funding wars” recently referred to by the Prime Minister, must come to an end.

Our school funding system, like our society, is built upon a basic premise – that all children deserve the best chance in life; one that’s underpinned and shaped by an education that ignites their curiosity, extends their knowledge and challenges them to learn more and be more.

The new funding reforms announced by the Prime Minister and Federal Education Minister recognise that all children deserve a base level of government support for their education, with those children most in need receiving the highest levels of support, regardless of where they live, or what school they attend. It is both logical and laudable.

Under the arrangements independent school children will continue to receive the lowest levels of government funding support. By not taking up a fully-funded place at a state school in Queensland, children in independent schools save taxpayers in the order of $1 billion a year in both recurrent spending and building costs. This contribution is met by parents from their after-tax income.

Many parents send their children to independent schools at significant personal sacrifice. Parents are and will continue to remain the biggest single funders of independent schools. It is their sacrifices that are routinely forgotten in the argy bargy of school funding debates. It is the money they invest in their children’s education that reduces the tax burden on other families and the cost impost on governments. They deserve more than a little thanks for their contributions.

David Robertson
Executive Director

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