The Australian Education Union's ACT branch council call to strip Radford College of territory government funding because it has received a $4 million donation from a benefactor may sound familiar.
That is because the union branch council has banged this drum before. It's just over a year since the same body was writing similarly worded letters to the ACT government calling on it to cut funding to the Canberra Grammar School for much the same reason.
Terry Snow, one of the city's most successful businessmen and the owner of the Canberra Airport, had very generously donated $20 million to his old school to build a 1400-seat auditorium, a music centre and a library,
The Radford College donation was made by the Boorer family to upgrade sporting facilities, build an indoor cricket centre and a new multi-function hall.
Both gifts were acts of philanthropy that will allow the respective schools to carry out major works that are not covered by recurrent territory or federal funding. Recurrent public funding to private schools is for education expenses such as teacher salaries and general school running costs, not capital works.
The amount of recurrent funding being paid to Radford College by the ACT government has been declining year-on-year since 2017.
Still, private schools - particularly relatively wealthy ones - building their stature with the help of philanthropic funds while still receiving government funding is always going to irk many, and incense some. That's why, given its ideological bent, the AEU's reaction is as understandable as it is predictable.
But it is worth asking whether its argument cuts both ways. If, for example, an ex student who had attended one of the ACT's many excellent public schools made a similar donation, would the AEU be calling for that lucky institution's government funding to be be slashed by the equivalent amount?
In 2017, did the union demand the ACT government strip out $3.5 million from public school funding because parents donated that amount for art supplies, library books and sporting equipment?
If one pursues the line being pushed by the teachers' union that gifts and fundraisers should be a zero sum game, with every dollar raised privately being deducted from the government spend, where would it end?
Cake stalls, raffles, walkathons, and the like would soon be things of the past. The philanthropic culture, which has done so much for this city and this nation, would be dead in the water.
The AEU's position seems to be more about lines in the sand and class warfare than the welfare of students and improving the quality of schools whether they be private or public. Community contributions and philanthropic donations are a welcome augmentation to government spending.
We have seen some notable examples of this during the recent bushfires and the coronavirus pandemic. It is absurd to argue, as the AEU is doing, that it should be a replacement for it.
That was the fundamental issue that sparked the Catholic schools strike that began in Goulburn in 1962 and which ultimately delivered a greater degree of funding equity for private schools.
The private education system, like private hospitals, makes a significant contribution to this nation's service delivery capability. If either ceased to exist the additional burden on governments, and ultimately on tax payers, would be immense.
That is why the ACT AEU's call to defund Canberra Grammar was quietly brushed aside by the ACT government in 2019.
It is also why this latest attack will fare no better. Philanthropy should not be turned into a zero-sum game.