A new report reveals that funding independent school systems such as the Catholic system, benefits students in all schools by saving taxpayers billions and leaving more resources for students in the public school system. This contradicts claims from the opponents of independent schools that millions of taxpayer dollars are being diverted from state education into the private sector which favours the ‘top end of town.’ In truth, promoting competition and parental freedom benefits all of us.
Milton Friedman once said that ‘One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.’ The intention of well-meaning people on the left to increase funding to public schools on the back of class warfare rhetoric would eradicate competition and hurt the very people they are seeking to help. We all agree education is the bedrock upon which we built a successful nation. But agreeing on the blueprints and building materials is not so simple.
In New South Wales alone, 250,000 students are attending 598 Catholic schools. If these students were suddenly displaced due to funding cuts it would cost taxpayers an extra 500 million dollars annually. Parents contribute an average of $2,000 each year to the Catholic school system bring down the price of taxpayer subsidies from $13,374 to $11,374. This private investment in educating future generations is estimated to be about $8 billion dollars, and supporting a more discriminatory approach to school funding would put it under threat.
Shifting students out of the public school system by encouraging parents who desire the choice of independent schools to pursue these aspirations, frees up significant space within public classrooms, saves taxpayers money, and helps public school students receive a better education as a result. This is especially important in an era of record population growth within our major cities that is already putting our existing school infrastructure and education system’s resources under stress.
As noted by Thomas Sowell, ‘schools are a monopoly and need not be responsive.’ Providing parents with a choice of state and private schools who can compete on an equal footing is the best way to create competition that encourages different schools and different education systems to compete to attract students and therefore, funding. This not only means that private school systems like the Catholic system provide a more suitable and desirable alternative for many children and parents. It means that even public schools are encouraged to lift their performance and outcome benchmarks- thereby benefiting their own students.
After all, if education outcomes were simply the result of funding itself and not also the incentives in place to deploy those funds effectively, then Australia would not lag behind countries like Singapore, China, and even Kazakhstan, who produce students with better Science and Maths scores despite allocating significantly less per-student funding.
The common misconception about seemingly preppy uniformed catholic school students is that they all come from wealthy families. This is also untrue. Many of the students attending Catholic schools are there because their families are willing to make an investment in the type of education they believe will give their children the leg up that they never had.
Independent schooling systems like Catholic schools, are a positive driving force in improving the quality of Australian education overall. As Friedman put it, we can either ‘subsidise the producer or the consumer.’ Right now, we are subsidising the producer: that is schools. According to Friedman’s argument, by subsidising the student instead, you create competition and competition creates a better consumer good: education. Subsidising the individual, instead of corporate teachers’ unions, empowers the smallest and most important of minorities: the individual student.
Moving even further towards supporting school choice through a voucher program that allocates families $13,374, the standard funding rate for government schools in NSW, would give parents even more choice and would ultimately improve the education their children receive. By making independent schooling affordable for many students from less well-off families, it would take more stress off state schools while encouraging these schools to improve their performance benchmarks by offering a better educational produce to attract students.
Education needs to be liberated from the excessive control of state and given back to families and their children who can pursue what works best for them. Freedom is the key to making our education system more lively, competitive and dynamic so we can step forward in the information age to be a strong, successful and agile society that can compete with the globe.
Jacob Watts is a Research Associate with the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance.