THE wealthiest schools will get millions of dollars extra each year under changes to private-
sector federal grants.
The move has caused an outcry, drawing protests from the union representing private-school teachers and students.
Georgiana Cameron, a Year 12 student from Melbourne's wealthy Wesley College, wrote to The Age newspaper, saying: "It disgusts me to think that Wesley will get more money to spend on attracting prospective parents. It's like walking past the beggar to give the rich man a golden cup to add to his thousands."
Denis Fitzgerald, president of the 150,000-strong Australian Education Union, said the government's action was a devastating attack on public education.
"These changes are a wilful attempt to break public education and they are driven by an ideological fixation," he said.
The new system no longer allocates federal grants according to schools' ability to raise income. Instead, it uses census data to assess the socio-economic status of all the people - not just the parents - living in the catchment areas of private schools. This ignores the fact that rich people oftn live in overall poor areas and vice versa.
The government argues that, if funding is based on the socio-economic mix, non-state schools, which attract students from poorer communities, will benefit.
Education department calculations show that between 2001-04, 2,600 private schools will receive $14 billion (pound;5bn) in federal grants and the 7,000 state schools just over half that sum.
The 62 richest private schools will get extra funding of $800,000 (pound;290,000) each a year, Catholic schools will receive increases of $60,000 but government schools an increase of only $4,000.
Private schools receive 38 per cent of their funding from the federal government, 18 per cent from state governments and the rest from fees. The states and territories spend about $14 billion a year on government schools.
Earlier this month, more than 100 prominent Australians condemned the government's action. Artists, actors, scientists, sports people and academics attacked the new formula as inequitable and discriminatory. "We call on Australian governments to create a public education system worthy of our nation," the letter said.