TREVOR COBBOLD. New figures show States have cut funding to public schools.

New figures show that government funding increases have massively favoured private schools over public schools across Australia since 2009. Total government funding per student in public schools was cut between 2009 and 2016 while large funding increases were provided to Catholic and Independent schools. Even during the Gonski funding period of 2013-2016, funding increases for private schools far outstripped the increase for public schools. 

While the Commonwealth Government increased funding for public and private schools, all State and territory governments cut funding for public schools by more than the Commonwealth increase, and nearly all increased funding for Catholic and Independent schools.

The introduction of the Gonski funding arrangements made little difference to this trend in the first three years of its operation from 2013 to 2016. While the Commonwealth increased funding for public schools (and private schools), all States except Victoria and Tasmania cut funding for public schools.

The new figures were published last month by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority but are adjusted here for rising costs to estimate real increases in funding.

Government funding 2009-2016

Australia

Real total government (Commonwealth and State) funding per student in public schools across Australia was cut by an average of $110 per student between 2009 and 2016. In sharp contrast, funding for Catholic schools increased by $1,171 per student and for Independent schools by $1,026.

The cut in real government funding for public schools was due to significant cuts by State governments which more than offset increased Commonwealth funding. Real Commonwealth funding for public schools increased by $370 per student, but State government funding was cut by $481.

Both the Commonwealth and State governments increased real funding for private schools. Commonwealth funding for Catholic schools increased by $1,091 per student and by $950 per student in Independent schools. State government funding for Catholic schools increased by $80 per student and by $76 per student in Independent schools.

States and territories

Real total government funding for public schools was cut in all states except Queensland and Tasmania while private schools received large funding increases in all States. The funding increases for Catholic schools were larger than for Independent schools in all states.

Large cuts in real government funding for public schools occurred in Victoria (-$267 per student), Western Australia (-$806) and the Northern Territory (-$1,282). The largest increases for Catholic and Independent schools were in Victoria ($1,360 and $1,166 respectively), Tasmania ($1,917 and $1,738) and the Northern Territory ($3,666 and $1,609).

The Commonwealth increased funding for public schools in every State, but every State government cut funding to public schools. The State cuts to public schools were large in most cases: NSW -$523 per student; Victoria -$458; Queensland -$144; Western Australia -$961; South Australia -$370, Tasmania -$264; ACT -$410 and the Northern Territory -$3,026.

Increases in Commonwealth funding for Catholic and Independents schools were over double that for public schools in all States.

Most State governments increased funding for private schools while cutting funding for public schools. For example, the Victorian Government increased funding for Catholic schools by $254 per student and by $131 for Independent schools while cutting funding for public schools by $458.

Where cuts to funding for private schools occurred, they were much smaller than the cuts to public schools. For example, the NSW Government cut funding to public schools by $523 per student compared to only $77 per Catholic student and $10 per Independent student.

Government funding in the Gonski period: 2013-2016

Australia

In the first three years of the Gonski funding plan from 2013 to 2016, average real total government funding per student in Catholic and Independent schools across Australia increased by over four times that in public schools. The increase for public schools was $123 per student compared to $524 per Catholic student and $507 per Independent student.

The smaller increase for public schools was due to a smaller increase in Commonwealth funding and cuts in State funding. Commonwealth funding for public schools increased by $260 per student compared to $532 per student in Catholic schools and $482 per student in Independent schools. State governments cut funding for public schools by $137 per student compared to a cut for Catholic schools of $8 per student and an increase of $25 per student for Independent schools.

States and territories

Catholic and Independent schools received much larger increases in government funding than public schools between 2013 and 2016 in all states. Total government funding for public schools increased in NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania but by far less than for Catholic and Independent schools. For example, funding for NSW public schools increased by $3 per student compared to $427 in Catholic schools and $363 for Independent schools.

Funding for public schools was cut in Western Australia (-$76 per student), South Australia (-$151), the ACT (-$606) and the Northern Territory (-$431) but increased for Catholic and Independent schools in Western Australia ($251 and $336 respectively), South Australia ($344 and $408) and the Northern Territory ($1,516 and $1,641) and for Catholic schools in the ACT ($879).

The larger increases for Catholic and Independent schools were due to bigger increases by the Commonwealth and significant cuts to public school funding all States except Victoria and Tasmania.

Commonwealth funding increases for Catholic and Independent schools were generally much larger than for public schools – in nearly all cases they were double or more those for public schools.

In Western Australia, the increase for Catholic and Independent schools was 9-10 times that for public schools and the increase for Catholic schools in the ACT was over 10 times that for public schools.

Six State governments cut funding of public schools during the Gonski funding period. Large cuts to public schools occurred in Queensland (-$273 per student), South Australian (-$296), ACT ($-660) and Northern Territory ($-1,391).

Conclusion

Government funding increases since 2009 have massively favoured private schools. Since the introduction of the Gonski model in 2014, government funding increases for public schools have continued to lag far behind those for Catholic and Independent schools.

State governments have demonstrably failed in their responsibility to adequately support public schools. Every State has cut real funding for public schools since 2009. Even during the Gonski plan years, six of the eight State governments continued to cut real funding for public schools.

The Turnbull Government has abandoned the concept of a national school funding model and reverted to separate funding roles for the Commonwealth and the States. Its new funding arrangements guarantee future funding increases for private schools but not for public schools because this is left to State governments which are responsible for about 80% of the funding of public schools.

Public schools are likely to remain significantly under-funded under the new Commonwealth arrangements unless State governments provide a major funding boost for public schools. Private schools will be over-funded unless State governments cut their funding.

The immediate priority is to ensure a funding boost for public schools by the States. The longer-term goal remains to implement a nationally integrated funding model directed at reducing disadvantage in education and which ends special deals and over-funding of private schools.

Trevor Cobbold is National Convenor of Save Our Schools. This article is a summary of a new Education Research paper published by Save Our Schools and available on its website.

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