TREVOR COBBOLD . The Facts About School Funding in Australia

Australia has an inequitable school funding system that continues to discriminate against public schools and disadvantaged students. Government funding has been badly mis-directed over many years with massive increases for the more privileged, better-off school sectors and students and far less for public schools.

New figures drawn from the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority’s (ACARA) National Report on Schooling data portal show that total government funding per student in public schools adjusted for inflation (“real funding”) was cut between 2009 and 2017 while funding for Catholic and Independent schools were provided with huge increases. Even during the Gonski funding period of 2013-2017 the funding increase for private schools was over three times the increase for public schools.

All states took the opportunity of increased real Commonwealth funding for public schools to cut their own real funding of public schools over 2009 to 2017 and most increased funding for private schools. Every state except Victoria and the Northern Territory cut funding for public schools while increasing funding for private schools.

Yet, over 80% of disadvantaged students are in public schools and over 90% of disadvantaged schools are public schools. Australia’s school funding system is more directed at supporting privilege than reducing disadvantage in education.

The total income per student of Independent and Catholic schools is now significantly higher than in public schools – $14,215 in public schools compared to $15,740 in Catholic schools and $22,108 in Independent schools.

Funding 2009 to 2017.

The income disparity between public and private schools has widened substantially since 2009. Total real income per student in public schools fell by $58 per student (-0.5%) but increased by $1,888 (17.8%) in Catholic schools and by $2,306 (15.1%) for Independent schools.

The increased income disparity between public and private schools was due to much larger Commonwealth Government funding increases for private schools than for public schools, reduced funding of public schools by state governments and fee increases above cost increases by private schools.

Government funding increases have massively favoured private schools. Real funding for public schools was cut by $17 per student (-0.2%) while funding for Catholic schools increased by $1,420 per student (18.4%) and for Independent schools by $1,318 (20.9%).

The Commonwealth funding increase for private schools was over double that for public schools. It increased funding for Catholic schools by $1,309 (22.7%) per student and by $1,205 (26.3%) for Independent schools compared to $560 (34.9%) for public schools.

Every state cut funding for public schools. Several cuts were very large as in Western Australia (-$1,575) and the Northern Territory (-$4,777). Average state funding for public schools was cut by $577 (-6.4%) per student while increasing funding for Catholic schools by $112 (5.7%) and $113 (6.5%) for Independent schools.

Private schools also increased fees and other income by more than cost increases. After allowing for inflation, Catholic schools increased fees and other income by $466 (16.1%) per student and Independent schools by $988 (11%).

Funding 2013 to 2017

The income disparity between public and private schools also widened since the introduction of the Gonski funding plan in 2014. Total income per student in public schools increased by only $202 (1.8%) compared to $1,005 (8.7%) in Catholic schools and $1,267 (7.8%) in Independent schools.

The increased income disparity between public and private schools in this period was also due to much larger Commonwealth Government funding increases for private schools than for public schools, reduced funding of public schools by state governments and fee increases above cost increases by private schools.

Total real government funding per student in Catholic and Independent schools increased by over three times that in public schools: $216 (2.1%) in public schools compared to $773 (9.2%) in Catholic schools and $799 (11.7%) in Independent schools.

The Commonwealth increased real funding for Catholic schools by $749 (11.8%) per student and $737 (14.6%) for Independent schools compared to $449 (26.2%) in public schools.

All states except Victoria and Tasmania cut funding for public schools. The average state funding was cut by $233 (-2.7%) per student compared to an increase of $24 (1.2%) per student in Catholic schools and $62 (3.4%) in Independent schools.

Private schools also increased fees and other income by more than cost increases. After allowing for inflation, Catholic schools increased fees and other income by $232 (7.4%) per student and Independent schools by $468 (4.9%).

Public schools will remain under-funded indefinitely while private schools are over-funded

Under the Morrison Government’s new funding arrangements, public schools will only ever be funded at 91% of their Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) at best while private schools will be funded at over 100% from 2023 if not earlier.

The Commonwealth has guaranteed that private schools will be funded at 80% of their SRS by 2023. Every state except the Northern Territory currently funds private schools at over 20% of their SRS and there are caveats in all agreements except the ACT that allows them to continue to be funded at above 20%. Thus, private schools will be funded at over 100% of their SRS by 2023 if not earlier and it will very likely continue indefinitely.

In contrast, public schools will remain well under-funded indefinitely. The Commonwealth is committed to funding public schools to 20% of the SRS, but state governments are only required to fund public schools to 75% of their SRS by 2027 (2028 in the case of Victoria, 2032 for Queensland and no time limit for the Northern Territory). However, an accounting trick in all agreements, apart from that for the ACT, allows the states to claim other non-school based expenditure (depreciation, school transport, regulatory agencies) up to 4% of the SRS towards their commitment so that they only have to fund public schools to 71% of their SRS. It means that public schools will only be funded at 91% of the SRS at best. They will be defrauded by a cumulative total of about $60 billion to 2027.

In addition, private schools will receive an additional $4.6 billion under the funding arrangements announced by the Morrison Government last year to apply over ten years from 2020. It will ensure that private schools are even more over-funded in the future.

Policy direction

There is no prospect that the new Morrison Government will fund public schools beyond 20% of their SRS. The immediate priority is to pressure the states to commit to funding public schools at 80% of the SRS by 2023 and to reduce their over-funding of private schools.

Public education organisations must to continue to advocate for a nationally integrated funding model directed at reducing disadvantage in education, ending special deals and over-funding of private schools, and boosting funding for public schools.

Trevor Cobbold is National Convenor of Save Our Schools. This article is a summary of a new SOS Education Research Paper.

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1 Response to TREVOR COBBOLD . The Facts About School Funding in Australia

  1. R. N. England says:

    As real wages fall, the system that once rescued the children of wage earners is being abandoned, both by Liberal and by post-socialist “Labor” governments.

    With the support of the majority of the Australian people, the engine of its education system is shifting from socialism to nepotism.

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