Students with Disabilities are Better Funded in NSW Private Schools than in Govt Schools

A submission by Save Our Schools to the NSW Parliament challenges the claim by private school organisations that students with disabilities in private schools receive less additional funding than in government schools. The SOS submission demonstrates that the claim is incorrect and that many private schools have a large funding advantage over government schools.

The submission analyses the claims at three different ways: for NSW as a whole; for Catholic and Independent schools separately; and by modelling individual schools with different enrolments of students with disabilities and different levels of government funding.

It finds that, on average, NSW private schools have a significant funding advantage over government schools in funding for students with disabilities. Additional funding for students with disabilities in NSW private schools is 26, 33 or 38% higher per student than that available to NSW government schools, according to which of three different data sources is used for the analysis.

The average additional funding for students with disabilities in NSW government schools was approximately $20 000 per student in 2008. In contrast, the additional funding available for these students in NSW private schools was $25 240, $26 600 or $27 500 per student depending on the data source used.

On average, the additional funding for students with disabilities in NSW Catholic schools was $24 680 per student, or 23% higher than in government schools. The additional funding for students with disabilities in NSW Independent schools was $35 800 per student, nearly 80% higher than in government schools.

Additional funding for students with disabilities varies greatly between individual schools. Many private schools receive much higher levels of additional funding than government schools. Some receive less.

Private schools with very low enrolments of students with disabilities (1%) in comparison with government schools receive very high additional funding for these students which far exceeds that provided in government schools. The additional funding for these schools ranges from $40 000 to over $100 000 per student; that is, at least double additional funding for students with disabilities in government schools, and up to nearly six times as much.

On the other hand, private schools whose enrolments of students with disabilities as a proportion of total enrolments is similar to government schools (5.5%), generally receive less additional funding than provided in government schools. However, few private schools have such high enrolments of students with disabilities and this disadvantage in funding is not consistent across schools with higher enrolments of these students. In particular, additional funding for these students in very low SES schools is similar to that in government schools.

The additional funding available for private schools which enrol the average proportion of students with disabilities for all private schools (3.5%) varies with their government funding ratio. Low SES schools funded at their SES rate will receive more than is available in government schools as will high SES schools which are high funding maintained (FM) under the Commonwealth SES funding model.

In contrast, high SES schools funded at their SES rate, or who are low funding maintained, are likely to receive less than that available in government schools. However, very few high SES schools have enrolments of students with disabilities around the average of all private schools or higher.

The private school claims are incorrect because they only consider direct additional government funding for these students. They ignore substantial indirect additional funding for students with disabilities in private schools which occurs because the Commonwealth and NSW Government general recurrent grants to private schools are linked to government school costs, which includes the costs of educating students with disabilities.

Government schools enrol a much higher proportion of enrolments of SWD than private schools (5.9% compared to an average of 3.5% in NSW) and incur correspondingly higher costs. Private schools receive a portion of this higher expenditure even though they enrol far fewer of these students than government schools. This provides a source of additional funding for SWD in private schools or which can be diverted to other students. The extra funding amounts to double-dipping by private schools.

This case that students with disabilities are better funded in private schools than in government schools was endorsed by a bi-partisan Senate committee report several years ago. It concluded:

….the Commonwealth funds provided to non-government schools through the general recurrent grants implicitly includes a proportion of funding for the education of students with disabilities. Where non-government schools either do not enrol many students with disabilities or where they do not provide appropriate levels of support for students with disabilities, they benefit disproportionately from Commonwealth financial assistance. The committee agrees that the needs of students with disabilities in this sector would be more appropriately served if the sector made better use of its current resources. It therefore makes no recommendations in relation to further assistance to non-government schools.

The private school lobbies have long ignored this point in making their claims.

The current system of government funding of private schools contains perverse incentives for private schools to limit their enrolment of students with disabilities. The lower the enrolment ratio of these students, the greater is the additional funding available for them or to be diverted to other students. It is the link with government school costs which provides the disincentive for private schools to enrol more students with disabilities, not inadequate direct government funding for these students.

Another perversity revealed by the submission is that students with disabilities in the most highly resourced NSW private schools receive the highest additional per capita funding from the NSW Government while those in the most disadvantaged private schools receive the lowest level of additional funding.

The submission recommends that additional funding for students with disabilities should be the same for each student, irrespective of the sector in which they are enrolled. However, to avoid continued double dipping by private schools, the costs of educating students with disabilities in government schools should also be removed from the calculation of average government school costs used as the basis of government funding for private schools.

Trevor Cobbold

Funding for Students With Disabilities in NSW Private Schools

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