Budget Gives Priority to Funding Privilege and Market-Based Programs

Equity in education is the major loser in the Commonwealth Schools Budget as the Labor Government continues to give greater priority to funding privilege and market-based programs than reducing disadvantage in education. The 2011-12 Budget projects larger funding increases for private schools than government schools and introduces new market-based programs while major equity programs are wound down.

Although government schools enrol the vast majority of disadvantaged students, the Commonwealth Government will provide much larger funding increases for private schools over the next three years. Adjusted private school funding is projected to increase by $964 per student between 2011-12 and 2014-15 compared to only $142 per government school student.

The projected dollar increase for private schools is nearly seven times that for government schools while the percentage increase is double that for government schools. Funding for government schools will decline in real terms while real funding for private schools will increase.

The raw figures published in the Budget Papers indicate that Commonwealth Government funding for private schools is projected to increase by 18% per student over the three years from 2011-12 to 2014-15 compared to 2% per student in government schools [Lines 3 & 9, Table 1]. Funding per private school student is projected to increase from $6,381 per student in 2011-12 to $7,522 per student in 2014-15. In contrast, government school funding will increase from $1,993 to only $2,042 per student.

The much lower increase in funding for government schools is due to a decline in payments for the Smarter Schools National Partnerships programs (NPPs) for improving teacher quality, literacy and numeracy and low SES communities. These programs are due to wind down over the forward estimates and no provision has been made to continue them. Payments will decline from an average of $341 per student in 2011-12 to $74 per student in 2014-15, a decline of 78% (Line 11, Table 1). In contrast, Commonwealth special purpose payments (SPPs) for education to the states will increase by 19% per government school student, which is similar to the funding increase for private schools (Line 10, Table 1).

However, these figures should be adjusted because a part of the NPPs are delivered to private schools by state/territory governments as part of the NPP Agreements between the Commonwealth and the states/territories governments. This is done in Table 1 by allocating NPPs between government and private schools on the basis of 65/35 split.

The adjusted estimates show that Commonwealth Government funding for private schools is projected to increase by 15% per student over the three years from 2011-12 to 2014-15 compared to 8% per student in government schools [Lines 4 & 12, Table 1]. Funding per private school student is projected to increase from $6,605 per student in 2011-12 to $7,569 per student in 2014-15, an increase of $964 per student. In contrast, government school funding will increase from $1,874 to $2,016 per student, an increase of only $142 per student.

Assuming that the Budget Outlook Statement forecast of a 4% increase in the wage price index for 2011-12 and 2012-13 continues to 2014-15, this means that funding for government schools will decline in real terms while private school funding will increase in real terms. This will also occur if the forecast CPI increase of 3% per annum is used as the measure of cost increases.

The Government has thus guaranteed future funding increases for private schools to a much greater extent than for government schools. It announced that the existing funding arrangements for private schools, due to expire at the end of 2012, will be extended until the end of 2013 for recurrent funding and until the end of 2014 for capital funding. Provision for this has been made in the forward estimates [Budget Paper No. 2: 173].

The Commonwealth has failed to make a similar commitment to funding the Smarter Schools targeted equity programs, which are more significant for government schools even though the funding is limited and not adequate to the task.

The Budget does provide additional funding for students with disabilities, with $200 million to be allocated over three years to 2013-14 to both government and private schools. However, this will extend the advantage in funding for students with disabilities in private schools. On average, students with disabilities in private schools are better funded than those in government schools because, in addition to direct funding, they receive additional indirect funding through the link between SES funding and government school costs.

In contrast to the winding down of the major equity programs, the Budget provides for new market incentives and mechanisms which extend beyond 2014-15. A total of $1.3 billion in bonus payments will be paid to the top-performing teachers in government and private schools over eight years from 2013-14. Bonus payments to government and private schools that improve their literacy and numeracy results will be extended to 2016-17 at a cost of $388 million. A further $481 million will be provided over six years to 2018 to increase local autonomy in decision-making for school budgets and staffing in government and private schools.

The Gillard Government is continuing to put its faith in market-based measures to improve student and school results despite overwhelming evidence that they have little or no success. Bonus payments for schools only lead to artificial and illusory increases in results through rorting and cheating. Bonus payments for teachers have been shown not to improve student achievement and even have a negative impact by setting teacher against teacher and undermining collaboration in schools. The weight of evidence on local autonomy in budgeting and staffing is that it has very little impact on student achievement.

Once again, the Gillard Government has got its funding priorities wrong. It is funding privilege at the expense of the disadvantaged and its new initiatives are based on faith rather than evidence. It has walked away from the important role of the Commonwealth in equity funding.

Improving equity in education is the greatest challenge facing Australian education today with massive achievement gaps between students from high socio-economic status (SES) and low SES, Indigenous and remote area students, the large majority of whom attend government schools. The Gillard Government should be expanding funding for disadvantaged students not winding it down.

Trevor Cobbold

Commonwealth Government School Funding - 2011-12 Budget

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