Children from high-income families should pay compulsory fees to attend public schools, a conservative think tank has recommended.
A report by the Sydney-based Centre for Independent Studies on ways to make education funding more effective says that even a charge of $1000, with a proportional reduction in government funding, could save the nation $250 million a year.
The School Funding on a Budget report, to be released today, also calls for the Federal Department of Education to be abolished, limits on class sizes removed and entry standards to teaching degrees lifted.
Author Jennifer Buckingham said many high-income families had access to some of the best schools in the country but did not pay a direct contribution to the cost of their children's education.
"There are almost 500,000 students in government schools from families with a household income that might be considered 'high'," she said. "It is reasonable to assume families with incomes of this level could afford to send their child to a school of their choice, and are therefore making a deliberate choice to send their child to a government school.
"Their choice of a government school entitles them to $15,000 per year in funding. Had they chosen a non-government school, as many lower income families do, they would receive less government funding and be expected to pay fees."
Dr Buckingham said her proposal was controversial because many people were wedded to the idea that public education should be free for everyone, but that might not be sustainable.
Education Minister Peter Collier said the State Government was committed to providing universal access for all children to public schools, regardless of their parents' income. "Therefore a mandatory charge is not being considered," he said.
Mr Collier said public schools levied some voluntary fees and parents had to pay for personal items such as stationery.