Who should pay for education?

Jul 11, 2011 by

Richard Williams – In an article in The Age (20/6/11) former Victorian education minister Lyn Kosky drew attention to the continuing project of undermining our state education system. Kosky was spurred to write by two similar proposals, one by Tim Hawkes, principal of The King’s School, and the other by Brian Caldwell, a former Dean of Education at the University of Melbourne. The essence of these proposals was that parents with high incomes who chose to send their children to state schools are an untapped source of funding. Hawkes suggested this should be for poorer state schools; Caldwell suggested it should be for capital spending in the schools their children attended.

I agree with Kosky’s concern. However, it seems to me that in making her argument she reinforced two common characterisations of state education that are misleading.

The first is that state education is free, which arises from the long-held ideal of state education being secular, compulsory and free. It is reiterated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the child, but education has never been free. Public education is paid for by all of us through our taxes and managed by our government on our behalf. The argument is not about whether it should be free or not, but whether it should be paid for individually or collectively.

Argument about the relative merits of individual or collective responsibility is more honest because it makes the values of the protagonists easier to see. I believe that school education should be subject to the user-pays principle. We all benefit in a multitude of ways from an educated population whether we have children or not, and we should all pay for it.

The second misconception is that schools are for parents, who are often spoken of as the users or consumers. Schools are for children and young people, all of whom deserve an equal chance. Choosing a school for your child is not the same type of decision as choosing a mechanic for your car. Children are not possessions. They have rights in their own regard, irrespective of who their parents are, and the protection of these rights is the responsibility of the state.

via Who should pay for education? – On Line Opinion – 11/7/2011.

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