The Facts About School Funding in NSW

Total government funding per student in NSW private schools adjusted for inflation (“real funding”) increased by over seven times that for public schools between 2009 and 2017. Even during the Gonski funding period of 2013-2017 the funding increase for private schools was three times that for public schools.

While the NSW Government increased current dollar funding of public schools between 2013 and 2017, it failed to cover rising costs. Real funding was cut by $202 (-2.4%) per student after cutting funding by $394 (-4.4%) per student between 2009 and 2013. It means public schools have fewer human and material resources per student.

The NSW Government took the opportunity of increased Commonwealth funding for public schools to cut its own real funding of public schools while maintaining funding for private schools.

Government funding increases have been badly misdirected in favouring the more privileged, better-off school sectors and students. About 85% of disadvantaged students in NSW are in public schools and 96% of disadvantaged schools are public schools.

Total income of schools 2017

The total income per student of NSW Independent schools was 66% more than in public schools in 2017 while that of Catholic schools was 6% higher. The total income of public schools was $14,058 compared to $23,290 in Independent schools and $14,858 in Catholic schools [Chart 1].

Source: ACARA, National Report on Schooling data portal.

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 increased by $130 per student (1.2%) but increased by $1,422 (13.7%) in Catholic schools and by $2,266 (13.9%) for Independent schools [Chart 2].

The increased income disparity between public and private schools was mainly due to much larger Commonwealth funding increases for private schools than for public schools, large fee increases in Independent schools and reduced funding of public schools by the NSW Government [Chart 2].

Real government funding for public schools increased by $164 per student (1.6%) while funding for Catholic schools increased by $1,225 per student (15.5%) and for Independent schools by $1,181 (18.2%).

The Commonwealth increased real funding for Catholic schools by $1,235 (15.4%) per student and by $1,147 (25.7%) for Independent schools compared to $760 (52%) for public schools.

The NSW Government cut real funding for public schools by $596 (-6.7%) per student while virtually maintaining its funding of private schools.

Independent schools increased fees and other income by much more than cost increases. After allowing for inflation, fees and other income increased by $1,086 (11.1%) per student.

Sources: ACARA, National Report on Schooling data portal. Adjusted for inflation by combined index of ABS Wage Price Index for private and public education and training and ABS Consumer Price Index.

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 real income per student in public schools increased by only $171 (1.6%) compared to $864 (7.9%) in Catholic schools and $1,252 (7.3%) in Independent schools [Chart 3].

The increased disparity in this period was also due to larger Commonwealth funding increases for private schools than for public schools, large fee increases in Independent schools and reduced funding of public schools by the NSW Government.

Real government funding per student in Catholic and Independent schools increased by over three times that in public schools: $218 (2.1%) in public schools compared to $718 (8.5%) in Catholic schools and $664 (9.5%) in Independent schools.

The Commonwealth increased real funding for Catholic schools by $697 (11%) per student and $624 (12.5%) for Independent schools compared to $420 (23.3%) in public schools.

The NSW Government cut real funding for public schools by $202 (-2.4%) per student but increased funding for Catholic schools by $21 (1%) per student and by $40 (2%) in Independent schools.

Independent schools increased real income from fees and other private sources by $589 (5.7%) per student.

Sources: ACARA, National Report on Schooling data portal. Adjusted for inflation by combined index of ABS Wage Price Index for private and public education and training and ABS Consumer Price Index.

NSW public schools will remain under-funded indefinitely while private schools will continue to be over-funded

Under the new Commonwealth/NSW funding agreement NSW public schools will only ever be funded at 91% of the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) at best while private schools will very likely continue to be funded at over 100%.

Under the agreement, the Commonwealth will increase its funding of public schools from 17.9% of the SRS in 2018 to 20% by 2023 while the NSW Government will increase its share from 70.7% to 75% by 2027. However, an accounting trick in the agreement allows the NSW Government to claim other non-school based expenditure (depreciation, school transport, regulatory agencies) up to 4% of the SRS towards its commitment. This means it only has to increase its funding by 0.3% to 71% of the SRS by 2027. Consequently, NSW public schools will only ever be funded at 91% of their SRS. The cumulative under-funding to 2027 will amount to about $18.3 billion.

The Commonwealth has guaranteed that NSW private schools will be funded at 80% of their SRS by 2023 (they are currently funded at 78%). They are also funded at 25% of their SRS by the NSW Government and there is a caveat in the agreement that allows them to continue to be funded at above 20%. Thus, private schools are currently funded at over 100% of their SRS and this will very likely continue indefinitely.

In addition, NSW private schools will receive an additional $1.4 billion under the funding arrangements announced by the Morrison Government last year to apply over ten years from 2020. It will ensure that NSW private schools are even more over-funded in the future.

Catholic and Independent schools can continue to supplement their large increases in government funding with increases in income from fees, charges and donations in excess of rising costs to extend their resource advantage over public schools 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 NSW Government to commit to funding public schools at 80% of the SRS by 2023 and to reduce its 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

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