Prime Minister Tony Abbott has ruled out means testing of public education “full stop”, but options on a leaked discussion paper are still open.
Fairfax Media reported one of four options being floated is to withdraw funding for wealthy families who send their children to public schools.
“The Australian Government does not and will not support a means test for public education. Full stop. End of story,” Mr Abbott told parliament on Monday.
However, if the states and territories want to charge fees for public schools, that is a matter for them, he said.
A discussion paper sent to states and territories as part of the federation white paper process has suggested four options for simplifying responsibility for school funding:
• Giving states and territories full responsibility for all schools
• Making states and territories fund public schools while the Federal Government funds non-government schools
• Reducing Commonwealth involvement in schools
• Making the Commonwealth the main funder of all schools
The last plan, part of the green paper on federation reform, would see funding “adjusted for student need and the ability of families to make a contribution”.
But this morning Education Minister Christopher Pyne said the Federal Government would not support a means test.
“Charging wealthy parents for their children to attend public schools is not the government’s policy. I don’t support it,” he tweeted.
“If the states and territories want to charge wealthy parents fees for public schools that’s a matter for them.”
On his way into parliament, Treasurer Joe Hockey also ruled out the idea.
Asked about the impact means-testing parents of state-school students would have on the Commonwealth, Mr Hockey said it “isn’t going to happen”.
“I think you’re speculating about something that isn’t policy and isn’t going to happen.”
“Yeah look, it’s not our policy, it’s not our policy. The States run the schools and it’s obviously not something that we’re interested in.”
The Commonwealth will give states and territories $15.7 billion for schools in 2015-16, more than a third of which is for public schools.
Opposition, state education ministers dismiss the proposal
Labor’s acting education spokesman Mark Butler said free public education was a right.
“There is absolutely no justification to make this fundamental shift,” Mr Butler said.
Victorian Education Minister James Merlino has been briefed on the proposals and hit out at the suggestion of means-testing.
“Victoria’s always happy to participate in reforms of the federation, but universal free public education is non-negotiable,” Mr Merlino said.
“This process should not allow the Commonwealth to walk away from its obligation under the Gonski agreement.
“If it does, Victorian schools will be about a billion dollars worse off.”
Queensland Education Minister Kate Jones said the proposed changes would be extreme and kill the Gonski school reforms.
“I don’t think any Queenslander wants that and certainly no-one that I’ve spoken to has said they’d like to see increases to fees and means-testing of public education,” she said.
“I think fundamentally it’s part of our Australian values, that every child in our country deserves access to good quality education.”
Greens senator Penny Wright said the discussion paper contains “horrifying proposals”.
“The Abbott Government must not abandon the 2 million students who go to public schools,” Senator Wright said.
– with ABC/AAP