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Submissions to Senate inquiry indicate a decline in number of students which may affect funding for government schools.



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AM

 

Friday 9 July 2004

Submissions to Senate inquiry indicate a decline in number of students which may affect funding for government schools

 

TONY EASTLEY: A Senate inquiry ha s been hearing that Australia's declining birth rate threatens to make it even more difficult in the future for public schools to secure commonwealth funding. 

 

The Commonwealth Funding for Schools inquiry, which begins public hearings in Perth on Monday, has received more than 50 submissions, many of which warn about the consequences of a drop in student numbers. 

 

Tanya Nolan reports.  

 

TANYA NOLAN: The battle has been getting tougher since the Government announced nearly $5 billion in federal funding to private schools this year. New South Wales teachers are preparing High Court action to challenge the use of that money by private schools, to fund religious education. 

 

And now a Senate inquiry into the Commonwealth funding arrangement will hear how an alarming drop in student numbers threatens to squeeze money for public schools even further. 

 

Inquiry Chairman Senator Kim Carr says that's one of the strong messages coming from more than 50 submissions received so far. 

 

KIM CARR: There's no question that demography is a real worry in terms of the way in which the population is distributed between the sectors; the types of schooling that's being produced as a result of that; whether or not we are building a universal system in which all citizens actually experience working together.  

 

And I think there are some concerns being expressed about the direction of schooling, and that's coming through on the submissions. 

 

TANYA NOLAN: The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that the numbers of students in secondary schools will fall by around 40,000 between 2007 and 2020, as a result of the nation's declining birth rate. 

 

In its submission, the Public Education Council, which advises the New South Wales Government says the demographic downturn will mean more challenging times for public schools in its state, and says that heightened competitive tensions will be experienced as schools attempt to maintain their student numbers and academic and financial viability. 

 

The Australian Education Union argues that there's no evidence of a great shift of students leaving the public system and enrolling in private schools, and Deputy Federal President Angelo Gavriolatos says the distribution of Commonwealth funding would suggest otherwise. 

 

ANGELO GAVRIOLATOS: Between 2001 and 2004 in NSW alone, six electorates saw a decline of student enrolments in private schools, yet still continued to receive dramatic increases in federal funding. 

 

Indeed, there has not been a single electorate where there's been an increase in private school enrolments of more than three per cent, yet on average, federal funding in each of those electorates has increased from between 32 per cent to 63 per cent. 

 

TANYA NOLAN: But in its submission the Federal Department of Education, Science and Training says enrolments in non-government schools have jumped by 13 per cent over the past six years, compared with two per cent in public schools. The Senate inquiry is due to hand down its report by the 11th of August. 

 

TONY EASTLEY: Tanya Nolan reporting.