I make no secret of it, I think spending $222m of tax dollars to fund proselytising, dodgy chaplains in Australian public schools is atrocious.
Here’s some things the recent funding expansion could have been spent on that don’t violate parental right to a free, secular education in our public schools.
Qualified (Real) School Counsellors
Apparently the reason we need chaplains is because we don’t have enough counsellors to go round. Well, in 2010, across Australia, there were 6,743 government schools and as far as I can see from the salary figures for Australian school counsellors that would get us 3083 school counsellors or 2658 senior counsellors.
Let me do the division: that would be around 1 new counsellor to every 2 schools. Just the new counsellors alone would be a 1 to 751 ratio. If you look at the figures for 2008 ratios they’re:
- ACT 1: 850 (1 Assistant Manager, 5 Senior Counsellors, 45 FTE positions for School Counsellors)
- NSW 1 : 1,050 (678 Counsellors 113 DGOs 1 PEOs ie 1 per region across the state)
- NT: 1:2500 when all positions are full (19 School Counsellors, 2 Senior. School Psychologists, 8 School Psychologists – however, rarely are all positions filled)
- Qld: 1:1,300 in secondary schools (about 350 combined GO and SGO positions)
- SA: 1:3779 for GO, 1:1944 for ECP (GO – 43.4 FTE in the field in 2008, with 3.1 FTE in specialist positions. ECP – 8.9 FTE in the field)
- Tas: 1 :1,800 (36 school psychologists, 8 senior school psychologists)
- WA: 1:1200 to 1:2000
- VIC: no data.
So you can see that those numbers are all blown out of the water (in a good way) if the money had gone to that. Of course the money could go toward the Northern Territory’s problem with hiring staff or to address the states with most urgent need. Or, hell, it could just go to paying the existing ones better pay so more staff are easily found and retained. For a government supposedly concerned about mental health it would surely make sense to hire qualified counsellors with that money rather than preachers who are only really there for a small percentage of the kids who are genuinely religious enough to need to talk to a religious ear.. and even then: only for certain types of advice (e.g. “I think I like my best friend in a sexual way” might not go down too well with an evangelist who thinks gays are sinful or unnatural).
Despite Access Ministries actively trying to turn kids against teachers and toward Chaplains via propaganda teachers are the lifeblood of the school and are the real educators.
Teacher ratios in public schools are a problem thanks to the decade or so of the Liberal government under Howard systematically dismantling public education in favour of private education. You remember that right? Back when Abbott was just a RU486 hoarding health minister who couldn’t separate his faith from his ministerial responsibility.
Anyhow, $222m of wasted chaplaincy money could pay for 2220 teachers on a pretty healthy old $100k a year. Or let’s say we pay for a bunch of teachers on $70k, that would get public schools an extra 3,171 teachers.
As of 2010’s ABS figures there are 183,725 teachers.
So we could give them all a $1200 bonus for putting up with the less than desirable funding arrangement that neglects them in favour of funding for extra indoor swimming pools for private schools.
Renewable Energy for Schools
I’ve talked in the past about my view that government buildings should all have solar installations on the roof.
Divided amongst all the schools you could prepare a “renewable energy for schools” programme which would be a lump sum payment of $33k to purchase solar panels for the rooftops of the new school halls. This would help in many ways: it would reduce the electricity bill.
According to Origin energy’s FAQ a 1.5kW system starts at $4k. So let’s say $1k worth of extra cost. So every school could be a 9-10kW solar installation.
So that’s 6743x10kW = 67430kW = 6.7 MW distributed power station. Sure the real yield would be lower that that and you only generate for X hours per day.. But it’s a definite start toward freeing us from fossil fuel dependency.
Instead of learning the “historic fact” from a Christian Chaplain about how all of mankind was forever cursed and kicked out of the garden of Eden each school could get a $33k grant toward creating and maintaining a school garden. The garden could be used to encourage healthy eating or used as an ongoing fund raising device. The added advantage would be education going home via the kids as to what is actually in season, leading to better choices at the super market. With $33K you’d be able to do some serious gardening.
Simply planting some trees might also be a good use of the funding which would offset some of the emissions for heating/cooling the school.
The money could be used to supply a free apple or orange to every kid in the public school system every day for 20 weeks.
Or perhaps a decent sized fruit salad for half that time.
That’d surely help with the obesity rates and encourage healthy eating.
Books or Technology
Public schools, having to make do with giving away 2/3 of the federal funding to private schools, are lagging behind in adoption of technology like smart boards and computing facilities. Schools could have $95 worth of extra spend per student on books or technology. So for every 10 students you could fund a laptop. So that’s two extra computers for every classroom. For a small school of 200 students that would be a computer lab. For every 50 students you could have a brand new smart board put into a classroom.
For the price of funding one god fearing chaplain at a school (at $20k of tax dollars) you could give an entire classroom of 20 kids a set of laptops for the year.
If you wanted to splash cash around you could pay a commercial IT consultant, Engineer or Scientist to come in once a week at consulting rates for 20-30 weeks to teach kids about technology rather than bronze age mythology. Which type of inspiration is likely to lead to a career that isn’t complete nonsense and sponging off Govt public schools violating our (supposed to be) secular education system?
Could hire a bunch of roaming consultants to educate the teachers in the technology they have as I know first hand just how little assistance teachers are given. Hell, I was the school technology expert all the way through my schooling from about year 3 onwards (I used to get called up from class in primary school by the high-school teachers to go help fix the clunky Microbee network). Although that was a useful life skill, I now do that with enterprise integration architecture problems.
There are lots of kids in financial, emotional, physical or other disadvantage. I don’t have figures for these, but I guess I’ve touched on the special schools funding.
Let’s assume we can assist students via hiring people at $25/hour (minimum wage is lower, but let’s not be cheap with our chappy cash bonanza). That would pay for 1,184,000 days of paid helper time. So spread over the schools that would be 175 extra days per school, or 35 extra working weeks of hiring someone to come in. So spread that over a few part time people and you’ve got yourself a magic amount of extra assistance with reading, writing etc.
To give you the background: many public schools rely on volunteers currently. Now wouldn’t it be great to pay those people? If we paid $18-20/hour we’d get even more time out of people. Those people would not be there to convert by stealth, preach about nonsense (or in one instance at least of a chaplain grooming children).. No, they’re there to help without preaching.
This would also be a benefit to give people a good part time source of income, particularly mothers/fathers who have their kids at the school and who aren’t working elsewhere.
What else could the money have gone to that’s school/education related?