Well-off parents could be asked to pay for their children to attend public schools under a dramatic government proposal for means-tested free public education.
The overhaul was outlined in a confidential paper developed within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, obtained by Fairfax Media.
The schools chapter of the Abbott Government’s green paper on federation reform also contained a proposal for the Commonwealth to abandon funding for all schools or for public schools.
According to an exclusive Fairfax report, the green paper, which was circulated to state and territory governments for consideration, presented four reform options:
– Giving the states and territories full responsibility for all schools;
– Making states and territories fully responsible for funding public schools while the Federal Government funded non-government schools;
– Reducing Commonwealth involvement in schools, but without significant structural change; or
– Making the Federal Government the dominant funder of all schools.
Under the fourth option, the Federal Government would provide funding for all students “adjusted for student need and the ability of families to make a contribution”.
The paper raised the prospect of public school fees for high-income families, Fairfax reported.
The proposal followed a recommendation by free market think tank the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) last year to charge high-income families $1,000 a year to send their children to public schools.
“The States and Territories would have the option to ‘top-up’ funding to government schools, if they wished to do so, to ensure all public school students, regardless of the ability of families to make a contribution, were able to attend for free,” the report said.
The paper said the “ambitious” model would allow funding to be tightly targeted at addressing disadvantage and would promote parental choice in schooling.
But it said it would separate responsibility for service delivery and funding, which was “not ideal”.
Education Minister Christopher Pyne had said previously the government believed it had a particular responsibility for independent schools that it didn’t have for public schools.
In a Tweet posted on Monday, Mr Pyne said: “Charging wealthy parents for their children to attend public schools is not the government’s policy. I don’t support it”.
“If the states and territories want to charge wealthy parents fees for public schools that’s a matter for them.
“The Australian Government does not and will not support a means test for public education. Full stop. End of story.”
Charging wealthy parents for their children to attend public schools is not the government’s policy. I don’t support it. #auspoI
— Christopher Pyne (@cpyne) June 21, 2015
The Federal Opposition hit back and said there was no justification for the government to charge parents to send their children to public schools.
Labor’s Acting Education spokesman Mark Butler said free public education was a right.
Prime Minster Tony Abbott said on Monday that states and territories ran public schools and any decision about the way they were funded was up to them.
“We have no role at all in the running of public schools and the public schools are absolutely the business of the state or territory governments,” Mr Abbott said.
But Liberal MP Ken Wyatt said he wouldn’t want to see a shift away from universal public education or a reduction in funding.
“The bottom line for education is that it’s got to be accessible to every child in Australia,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“We should never have a situation in which any child is left out of the system.”
The Australian Education Union called on state and territory governments to reject the means-testing proposal and the Federal Government abandoning school funding.
“It is a fundamental right of every Australian to be able to access public schools free of charge and has been since the 19th century,” federal president Correna Haythorpe said in a statement.
She said the proposals were more about privatising education than improving education outcomes for children.
The green paper’s first option would see the states and territories assume total responsibility for school funding – a $15 billion annual saving for the Federal Government, Fairfax reported.