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Class warriors take on poor schools with education cuts

NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli (left) has slashed funding for state schools. AAP/Paul Millar

Our Liberal-run states are locked into a self-made and self-fulfilling prophesy of budgetary crisis. It seems that running a deficit budget which is at the heart of liberal Keynesian economic theory is anathema today to Victoria, NSW and Queensland state treasurers.

And if a state needs to cut its budget you might assume it would look at non-essential services, such as the state promotion and marketing budget or support for major private corporate events such as horse racing.

But what do Queensland and NSW do? Well conservative voters have private health cover and their children attend independent schools so they attack the essential services that cater for the more disadvantaged sectors of the community: health and education.

And if the education budget is to pruned then you might assume that the first place to wield the razor might be the schools that need money the least, and the schools that are not actually answerable to the state that funds them - the independent and Catholic school sectors. But that would be too logical by half.

So while the private schools will have their budgets maintained after incredible pressure from backbenchers and their lobbyists, including his eminence Cardinal Pell, the private school system walks away with its budgets intact.

They will cry poor, and say that they have taken a real cut because of lack of indexation. The chief executive of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia, Kim Cull, said the funding cuts would stifle non-government schools’ ability to cater to the disadvantaged.

Given that 80% of disadvantaged children, 85% of Indigenous children and 79% of children with disabilities attend government schools, he shouldn’t be too worried about the impact on his system.

At the same time the NSW government has followed the incredibly same short-sighted path as Victoria, slashing TAFE staff and increasing TAFE fees by twice the amount of inflation. Those who attend TAFE come from the more disadvantaged communities of our nation. They will not have the ability to pay their fees and will vote with their feet. Never mind the question of who will build the infrastructure of the future if the country doesn’t have skilled tradespeople.

And just like in Victoria, NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said teachers’ jobs would be unaffected, with the job cuts to come from the “back office”, from state and regional offices of the department. Clearly the minister has no idea how education works in the state school system.

So-called “back office” staff are the exact same professionals who would oversee the lifting of standards of student achievement, run the testing programs, implement the new National Curriculum and look after student and teacher welfare. These day-to-day essential services are absolutely required if the children of NSW are to have the very best education possible.

But this phenomenon is not isolated to NSW. In Victoria not only has Premier Ted Baillieu failed to keep his promise to make Victoria’s teachers the best paid in Australia, but education minister Martin Dixon has also slashed $74 million from so-called “inessential” staff such as literacy and numeracy coaches, along with more than $100 million from alternate year 12 courses almost exclusively offered by disadvantaged state schools.

At a time when Australia’s educational achievement is slipping and the Gonski Review has called for huge increases in funding to ensure that the growing equity gap between advantaged and disadvantaged communities is closed, such actions are not only counter- productive but incredibly short-sighted.

Tim Soutphommasane recently wrote in The Age:

Barely a week now goes by without someone crying ‘class warfare’, though it is the super-rich and their political allies who complain the most. The phrase has become part of the new conservative political correctness in this country. Any redistribution of resources tends to be portrayed as illegitimate government action, any talk about social justice to be denounced as an exercise in downward envy.

Tim is right, this indeed is a class war. But as always, its the poor who lose out in the end.

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