Public Schools are Defrauded by Billions Under New Funding Agreements

This article is a summary of a new Education Research Brief published by Save Our Schools. The Brief can be downloaded below.

Public schools are being defrauded by billions under school funding agreements finalised at the end of last year between the Commonwealth and state/territory governments (“the states”). Public schools in all states except the ACT will be under-funded indefinitely while private schools in all states except the Northern Territory will be fully funded or more by 2023. Private schools also get more favourable phase-in arrangements than public schools.

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Money Matters for Student Outcomes

A new comprehensive review of academic studies in the United States has found overwhelming evidence of a strong causal relationship between increased school spending and student outcomes. It concludes that “the question of whether money matters is essentially settled” and that “….any claim that there is little evidence of a statistical link between school spending and student outcomes is demonstrably false”.

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WA Public Schools Lose Billions Under New Education Agreement

Public schools will lose about $6.1 billion in funding over ten years from 2018 under the new Bilateral Agreement between the Commonwealth and Western Australian Governments published last week. It means that public schools will be under-funded by about $4.6 billion to 2027. In contrast, a special provision in the Agreement will allow private schools to continue to be over-funded. What a legacy by a Labor Government!

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Public Schools Are Swindled by Billions Under New Education Agreements

This article is a summary of a new Education Research Brief published by Save Our Schools. The Brief can be downloaded below.

Public schools in NSW and South Australia will be swindled by about $7.5 billion over the next decade under new special deals incorporated in education agreements recently negotiated with the Commonwealth Government. The loss to NSW public schools is about $6.1 billion over the ten years and about $1.4 billion for South Australian public schools. Public schools around the country will lose about $16.5 billion over ten years if the swindle is extended to other states, as is likely.

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Another Study Shows That Funding Matters in Education

Yet another study shows that money matters in education. A new study published in the latest issue of the Economics of Education Review found that increased funding for New York State school districts led to increased student test scores. It concluded:

The findings in this study show clear and compelling evidence that educational resources improve student learning…[and] builds onto a growing body of evidence that educational resources contribute to improved student outcomes. [pp. 176, 177]

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Morrison Puts More Nails in the Coffin of Gonski

The following is a new Education Policy Brief published by Save Our Schools. It can be downloaded below

Introduction

The Gonski funding model was systematically dismantled by the Abbott and Turnbull Governments and it was almost dead and buried by the end of Turnbull’s reign. The Morrison Government immediately put more nails in the Gonski coffin with a new special $4.6 billion funding deal for private schools that is not fully based on need.

The new special deal has two main components –an additional $3.2 billion over 10 years from 2020 to 2029 to implement a new method of assessing capacity to pay in private schools and an additional $1.2 billion over the same period to support parent choice. The large bulk of the increase will go to Catholic schools.

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State Govts Evade Commitments to Public Schools

Public schools have suffered a double blow in the last fortnight. The Morrison Government announced a $4.6 billion appeasement deal for private schools with no increase for public schools. Last week The Guardian exposed how Labor and Coalition state governments are trying to evade commitments to increase their funding of public schools through a subterfuge. If successful, public schools, which enrol over 80% of disadvantaged students, could lose up to $2.6 billion a year. Public schools need and deserve better than this. Continue reading “State Govts Evade Commitments to Public Schools”

New Figures Reveal that the ACT Government Has Cut Funding to Public Schools

Thursday May 31, 2018 

New figures show that government funding increases have massively favoured private schools over public schools in the ACT. Despite much rhetoric about its support for public schools, the ACT Government has cut funding for public schools since 2009. It even cut its funding during the Gonski funding period, after agreeing to increase it.

The new figures published last month by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (adjusted here for rising costs) reveal that the ACT Government has taken the opportunity of increased Commonwealth Government funding to cut its own funding of public schools.

Total government (Commonwealth and ACT) funding for public schools, adjusted for inflation, was cut by $154 per student between 2009 and 2016. In contrast, funding for Catholic schools increased by $1,335 per student and for Independent schools by $480 per student.

The funding cut to public schools was due to a large cut by the ACT Government of $410 per student which more than offset an increase in Commonwealth funding of $255 per student. Yet, the ACT Government increased funding for Catholic schools by $220 per student.

The cuts to public schools were even greater during the Gonski funding period of 2013-2016 despite the ACT Government signing up to the Gonski plan. Total government funding for public schools, adjusted for inflation, was cut by $606 per student compared to an increase of $879 per student in Catholic schools and a small cut of $76 per student in Independent schools.

Again, the cut to public schools was due to a large cut in funding by the ACT Government of $660 per student. It was the biggest cut made by any government during the Gonski period except for the Northern Territory. At the same time, it increased its funding of Catholic schools by $221 per student, which was the biggest increase provided by any government in this period.

The ACT Government has clearly reneged on its Gonski agreement. Under the agreement that the then Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher, signed with the Commonwealth Government in 2013, the ACT Government committed to increasing its current funding effort by 3 per cent a year and to put in another $22 million beyond this over six years.

The expectation was for a small increase in the real resources for public schools. This has not happened. ACT Government funding of public schools has not even kept pace with rising costs; instead of increasing real resources in public schools they have been cut.

Catholic schools in the ACT are vociferous in their complaints about inadequate government funding. Yet, they have had a great deal – better than any other sector. Their total government funding per student, adjusted for inflation, has increased by 20 per cent since 2009 compared to 8.4 per cent for Independent schools and a cut of 1.3 per cent to public schools.

Catholic schools are massively over-funded at 139 per cent of their Schooling Resource Standard. The Commonwealth Government has also given them another special deal of an additional $36.1 million to 2027 beyond the planned increase under the new Commonwealth funding arrangements. Catholic schools have nothing to complain about, especially compared to public schools.

In cutting funding to public schools, the ACT Government has failed disadvantaged students, over 80% of whom attend public schools. High inequality in school results between students from rich and poor families is a constant feature in the ACT.

The latest NAPLAN results show that Year 9 students from low SES families are 2-3 years behind their high SES peers. Indigenous students are 3-4 years behind. The OECD’s PISA 2015 results show that the achievement gap between rich and poor in the ACT is only exceeded by that in Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

We have to do better. Low education achievement by a significant proportion of young people has far reaching individual, social and economic costs. It stunts individual lives and it brings higher health, social welfare and crime costs. It also stunts economic growth and prosperity.

The ACT is essentially a knowledge-based economy dependent on education improvement for its continuing prosperity. An underperforming education system means an underperforming economy.

Next week’s Budget is an opportunity to redress the Government’s long neglect of public schools. The Minister for Education has been going through a long consultation process on the future of education in the ACT, but it will come to nothing without a major funding boost for disadvantaged students and schools.

Trevor Cobbold

This article was originally published in the Canberra Times on 29 May.

New Figures Show States Have Cut Funding to Public Schools

Tuesday May 29, 2018

The following is a summary of a new research paper published by Save Our Schools on the state of school funding in Australia. It can be downloaded below.

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 (hereafter referred to as “states”) 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 Commonwealth increase was sufficient to offset the state cuts in some jurisdictions but not in others.

The new figures were published last month by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority but have been adjusted here for rising costs by a composite index of the Wage Price Index for public and private education and training and the Consumer Price Index.

School income 2009-2016
The total recurrent income per student of Catholic and Independent schools in Australia and in nearly all states and territories was significantly higher than in public schools in 2016. The average total income per student in public schools in Australia was $13,747 compared to $21,092 per student in Independent schools and $15,026 in Catholic schools.

The total income (adjusted for inflation – hereafter called “real” income/funding) of public schools fell by $174 per student between 2009 and 2016 but increased massively for private schools. The total real income of Catholic schools increased by $1,582 per student and by $1,866 in Independent schools.

The disparity in real income per student between public and private schools has widened considerably since 2009 – from 36% to 55% higher for Independent schools and from 6% lower to 10% higher for Catholic schools.

Government funding changes accounted for the large part of the increased income disparity between public and private schools. Fees and donations in private schools also increased in real terms.

Government funding 2009-2016
Australia
Average real total government (Commonwealth and state) funding per student in public schools across Australia was cut by $110 per student (-1%) between 2009 and 2016 while funding for Catholic schools increased by $1,171 per student (15.2%) and for Independent schools by $1,026 (16.3%).

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 (23.1%), but state government funding was cut by $481 (-5.4%).

Both the Commonwealth and state governments increased real funding for private schools. Commonwealth funding for Catholic schools increased by $1,091 per student (18.9%) and by $950 per student in Independent schools (20.8%). State government funding for Catholic schools increased by $80 per student (4.1%) and by $76 per student (4.4%) 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.

The largest 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 & $1,166 respectively), Tasmania ($1,917 & $1,738) and the Northern Territory ($3,666 & $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 very large in most cases: -$523 per student; Victoria -$458; Queensland -$144; Western Australia -$961; South Australia -$370, Tasmania -$264; -$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 Government cut funding to public schools by $523 per student compared to only $77 per Catholic student and $10 per Independent student.

School income in the Gonski period: 2013-2016
The total real income per student in Catholic schools increased by $699 between 2013 and 2016 and by $827 in Independent schools compared to only $86 in public schools. The disparity in real income per student between public and private schools widened from 48% to 55% for Independent schools and from 4% to 10% higher for Catholic schools.

Government funding changes accounted for the large part of the increased income disparity between public and private schools. Fees and donations in private schools also increased in real terms.

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. Real total government funding for public schools increased by $123 per student (1.2%) compared to $524 per Catholic student (6.3%) and $507 per Independent student (7.4%).

The smaller increase for public schools was due to a smaller increase in Commonwealth funding and a cut in state funding. Commonwealth funding for public schools increased by $260 per student (15.2%) compared to $532 per student (8.4%) in Catholic schools and $482 per student (9.6%) in Independent schools.

State governments cut funding for public schools by $137 per student (-1.6%) compared to a cut in funding for Catholic schools of $8 per student (-0.4%) and an increase of $25 per student (1.4%) 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 , Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania but by far less than for Catholic and Independent schools. For example, funding for 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 (-$606) and the Northern Territory (-$431) but increased for Catholic and Independent schools in Western Australia ($251 & $336 respectively), South Australia ($344 & $408) and the Northern Territory ($1,516 & $1,641) and for Catholic schools in the ($879).

The larger increases for Catholic and Independent schools were due to higher 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 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 (-$296), ($-660) and Northern Territory ($-1,391).

Several states also cut funding to Catholic and Independent schools, but generally by small amounts, while others increased funding. The cuts were generally much smaller than for public schools in the same jurisdiction.

Conclusions
Government funding increases since 2009 have strongly 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 spectacularly 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

The State of School Funding in Australia.pdf

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Another Failure of Govt Oversight of Private Schools

Thursday May 10, 2018

A report published last week by the Auditor-General found that the Department of Education has failed to ensure that the Catholic and Seventh-Day Adventist school systems are accountable for the way the spend Government funding. It said that the Department does not know how these systems distribute taxpayer funding to their member schools. The report also said that the Department has failed to adequately verify enrolments for funding purposes and monitor the governance of private schools.

In , private schools are funded as either a system or a non-system school. According to the report, the only two systems for funding purposes are the Catholic and the Seventh Day Adventist systems. The Department provides per capita funding though the system authorities which can re-allocate and distribute funds to their member schools according to their own methodology. For non-system schools, the Department provides per capita funding directly to the school.

The report identified a major failing in the Department’s oversight of how the Catholic and Seventh-Day Adventist systems re-allocate their funding. It said that it is important for the Department to know how funding is reallocated to ensure adequate accountability of the use of public funds. Remarkably, however, it found that the Department does not know how these systems distribute funds to their member schools as it does not require the systems to report on how much funding each school receives.

The Auditor-General recommended that the Department should strengthen its oversight of the use of funds and how systems reallocate funding in order to increase accountability for public funding. It said that system authorities should be required to re-allocate funds across their system on a needs basis and verify this in reports to the Department.

The report also found that the Department does not know how much recurrent government funding is retained by systems for administrative costs. System authorities are not required to report to the Department how much of their grant was retained for administrative or centralised expenses.

This is a major issue. A recent report by the Australian National Audit Office found that that many private school systems do not report on their administrative costs and centralised expenditure. In 2015, only nine out of 25 systems reported these costs. It also found that there are very large variations between systems that do report on this expenditure and some are diverting considerable funding to their own administration. The proportion devoted to central administration ranged between 0.1% and 18.9% of total recurrent funding, with a value between $100,000 and $30.7 million.

The report also criticised the Department for failing to directly validate the enrolments of private schools. This is important to avoid the possibility of fraud by over-statement of enrolments to generate higher funding from the Government. For example, a report by the Queensland Auditor-General in 2015 found that some private schools were overstating their enrolments to get more state funding. It estimated the over-counting of students at 14% and the over-funding conservatively at $1.5 million.

The Auditor’s report found that the Department relies on schools and system authorities to engage a registered auditor to certify the accuracy of information on their enrolments and usage of grants. However, it does not have a process to verify the independence of the auditor. The Auditor-General recommended greater scrutiny of the registration and independence of the auditors to increase confidence in the accuracy of this information. The report also recommended that the Department should conduct investigations to verify enrolment and expenditure of funds.

Another area of concern was the lack of oversight by the Education Standards Authority () of the compliance of private schools with registration requirements. In 2017, 70% of schools that were re-registered were not assessed against the proper governance requirement of the Education Act. Since 2015, the Authority has placed seventeen private schools under monitoring arrangements due to areas for improvement or concerns about compliance with these requirements.

The Department allows school systems such as the Catholic system to self-regulate. Systems monitor their schools’ compliance with the registration requirements and inspectors monitor system authority processes over a 5-year cycle. The report recommended that should increase random inspections of schools to ensure that system authorities are adequately monitoring compliance with all registration requirements, including proper governance.

The new report is latest in a long list of audit reports highlighting poor government oversight of how private school systems distribute their government funding. For example, the recent National Audit Office report slammed the Commonwealth Department of Education for failing to ensure its funding of private school systems is distributed according to need and for not knowing how private school systems distribute their funding. There had been no change from the 2009 Audit Office report that found that the Department did not have information on the funding formulae that private school systems used to distribute funds to their affiliated schools.

This failure of public accountability for the use of taxpayer funds was noted by the 2011 Gonski report . It expressed concern about the lack of transparency of funding allocations in private school systems. It noted that there was limited information available about the methods private school systems use to distribute government funding to their affiliated schools. More recently, a report by the Victorian Auditor-General in 2016 found that the Victorian Department of Education and Training was not aware of the methodology used by the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria to distribute state recurrent grants to member schools.

The fact is that private schools and systems in Australia are largely self-regulated. The history of government funding of private schools is a history government and bureaucratic failure to ensure public transparency and accountability on how private school organisations spend taxpayer money. Some private school organisations have long arrogantly refused to meet legislative and regulatory requirements relating to accountability for the use of taxpayer funds.

The sad thing is that this is likely to continue given the standard set by the Commonwealth. Gonski 2.0 continues the same administrative and regulatory arrangements that have failed in the past. It has made it clear that there will be no change to the autonomy of private school systems in distributing funding to their schools and the transparency arrangements remain unchanged despite the recent report.

It remains to be seen whether the Government will do any better. The Department’s response to the Auditor-General’s report promises change but subject to consultation with private school organisations. In effect, this provides them with a veto over closer regulation by the Government.

The Government should enact additional enforcement procedures to ensure private schools distribute funding according to need. They should go beyond just reporting to the Department. All private school systems should be compelled to publish their funding models on their websites, how much each school receives and how much is retained for central administration expenses.

Trevor Cobbold

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