Does the Australian government discriminate against private schools?

On Monday, Andrew Norton made the observation that parents who choose private education for their children are treated less favourably by government than those who choose public schools.

On the federal government’s school funding policy, students at private schools get subsidies at somewhere between 13.7% and 70% of the government school rate, depending on the (presumed) socio-economic status of parents. So parents choosing private schools are financially treated less favourably than parents choosing government schools. Why is this not discrimination?

It’s a reasonable question and it does seem like discrimination.

However, even more interesting is Andrew’s suggestion that the parents most discriminated against by the government are religious parents who, by virtue of their faith, choose to send their children to private schools.

Most private schools are at least nominally religious, and as I noted in my post last week, attitudes towards religion are the only major difference between the school aspirations of parents of children at government and private schools. So those who want their children to receive a religious education are treated less favourably than those who want their kids to have a secular education. If you read the history of public education in Australia this aspect was much more open in the 19th century than today – Protestants, particularly, wanted to diminish the strength of the Catholic Church.

I think current policies on education funding do discriminate against parents who choose private schools, treating them less favourably primarily because of their religion but also more generally for not sharing the ideology of public schooling. The question is whether there is a public policy reason for this discrimination.