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Mar 5, 2013

Victoria adopts school vouchers for disadvantaged

Cartoon: Mark Knight 
The federal government commissioned the Gonski Report after realising that education standards here had slipped in relation to the rest of the world, or part of it.  The report recommended throwing a large increase in funding at the problem, along with a greater degree of central planning.  The result of implementation would be a ‘one size fits all’ system Australia wide.
States with conservative governments are objecting strongly with Victoria taking the lead.  Part of that state’s solution is the use of school vouchers; unfortunately not for all students, but for those seen as disadvantaged.  It seems to offer schools more autonomy with accountability standards included.
Given that the drop in outcomes has come on the back of around a 40% increase in education funding over the last decade, the Victorians make a valid point that there is little difference in outcomes in relation to extra expenditure over a certain level: 
The international literature highlights that, beyond a certain base level of funding, there is no necessary causal link between increased funding and higher educational outcomes.7 The world’s best performing school systems are not necessarily the world’s biggest spenders. For example, South Korea spends much less per student than the OECD average yet outperforms Australia and many other countries by a significant margin. 
Public expenditure on schooling per student in Australia is already slightly above the OECD average.9 Between 2000 and 2009, real expenditure on school education in Australia increased by 44%, yet outcomes measured by the PISA tests showed a statistically significant decrease; a similar phenomenon was observed in the UK. 
... Merely increasing school funding will not lift the performance of Victorian and Australian schools to the global top tier. Some important reforms will require additional funding. But it is vital that additional funding is invested sensibly and that it is directed to measures that will improve outcomes for students. What is most important is how funding will be spent. High performing schools in Victoria show that much more can be done within existing resources and with modest additional resources.
The commonwealth, bureaucracy, and teachers unions are outraged by these suggestions.  Columnist Henry Ergas though, demolishes many of their claims in The Australian: 
Victoria's proposals, released last week, to provide every low-income family with a voucher redeemable in government and non-government schools, take those changes a dramatic step forward. That they have the teachers' unions in hysterics is unsurprising; but it is startling that the Gillard government, having spouted the rhetoric of choice, has now joined the unions in denouncing policies that would give less well-off parents a real right to choose. 
The battle cry of these enemies of choice is that schools are underfunded; their panacea is throwing yet more taxpayer dollars at education. With those shekels would come shackles: increased centralisation that adds layers of bureaucracy while duplicating existing requirements in the states; and crucially, new limits on entry into teaching and on the opening of non-government schools. 
Australian kids would gain nothing from that agenda. But the teachers' unions would be big winners, in the form of more jobs, higher pay and less demanding working conditions. 
The long-term increase in teacher numbers is telling: school students account for exactly the same proportion of the population today as they did in 1951, but the share of teachers in the population has doubled. Telling too are the cost increases, with teacher wages per student in government schools rising, in real terms, by 33 per cent in the past decade alone. 
Notoriously, what hasn't increased are the outcomes: it is producers, not consumers, who have captured most of the benefits of rapidly rising spending. And with billions more set to be spent, the unions want to capture them every bit as fully as they have in the past. Little wonder then that, like all cartels, they want to increase the barriers to entry into their sector. …
State premiers make a good point in that in coming up with their own solutions, they can better tailor education to their individual states needs and are able to pinch any better ideas coming from the others.

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