The Facts About School Funding in South Australia

Total government funding per student in South Australian private schools adjusted for inflation (“real funding”) increased by nearly ten 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 about twenty times that for public schools.

While the South Australian Government increased current dollar funding of public schools between 2009 and 2017, it cut real funding by $230 (-2.5%) per student. In the Gonski funding period it cut public school funding by $156 (-1.7%) per student. The cuts mean that public schools have fewer human and material resources per student.

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

Government funding increases have been badly mis-directed in favouring the more privileged, better-off school sectors and students. About 83% of disadvantaged students in South Australia are in public schools and 98% of disadvantaged schools are public schools

Total income of schools 2017

The total income per student of South Australian Independent schools was 28% more than in public schools in 2017 while that of Catholic schools was 10% higher. The total income of public schools was $15,040 compared to $19,270 in Independent schools and $16,486 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 $74 (0.6%) per student but increased by $1,870 (16.6%) in Catholic schools and by $2,490 (19.4%) 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, reduced funding of public schools by the South Australian Government while increasing funding for private schools and large fee increases in private schools [Chart 2].

Real government funding for public schools increased by $131 (1.2%) per student while funding for Catholic schools increased by $1,292 per student (17.2%) and for Independent schools by $1,269 (20.2%).

The Commonwealth increased real funding for Catholic schools by $1,135 (19.5%) per student and by $1,094 (22.5%) for Independent schools compared to $361 (20.7%) for public schools.

The South Australian Government cut real funding for public schools by $230 (-2.5%) per student while increasing its funding of Catholic and Independent schools – $157 (9.5%) and $175 (12.2%) respectively.

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 $577 (15.4%) per student and Independent schools by $1,211 (18.7%).

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 income per student in public schools increased by only $99 (0.8%) compared to $775 (6.3%) in Catholic schools and $1,476 (10.7%) 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, reduced funding of public schools by the South Australian Government while increasing funding for private schools and fee increases well above the rate of inflation in private schools.

Real government funding per student in Catholic and Independent schools increased by about 20 times that in public schools – $29 (0.3%) in public schools compared to $530 (6.4%) in Catholic schools and $664 (9.6%) in Independent schools.

The Commonwealth increased real funding for Catholic schools by $465 (7.1%) per student and $571 (10.6%) for Independent schools compared to $185 (9.6%) in public schools.

The South Australian Government cut real funding for public schools by $156 (-1.7%) per student but increased funding for Catholic schools by $65 (3.7%) per student and by $93 (6.2%) 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 $245 (6%) per student and Independent schools by $812 (11.7%).

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.

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

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

Under the agreement, the Commonwealth will increase its funding of public schools from 16.6% of the SRS in 2018 to 20% by 2023 while the South Australian Government will maintain its current share at 75% indefinitely. However, an accounting trick in the agreement allows the South Australian Government to claim other non-school based expenditure up to 4% of the SRS towards its commitment. This means it can effectively reduce its current funding to 71% of the SRS. Consequently, South Australian public schools will only ever be funded at 91% of their SRS. The cumulative under-funding to 2027 will amount to about $3.3 billion.

The Commonwealth has guaranteed that South Australian private schools will be funded at 80% of their SRS by 2023 (they are currently funded at 77%). They are also funded at 22% of their SRS by the South Australian Government and there is a caveat in the agreement that allows them to continue to be funded at above 20%. Thus, South Australian private schools are currently funded at over 100% of their SRS and this will very likely continue indefinitely.

In addition, South Australian private schools will receive an additional $275 million under the funding arrangements announced by the Morrison Government last year to apply over ten years from 2020. It will ensure that South Australian 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 South Australian 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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