The Facts About School Funding in Western Australia

Total government funding per student in Western Australian private schools adjusted for inflation (“real funding”) increased by nearly $1,200 per student between 2009 and 2017 while funding for public schools was cut by even more than the private school increases. During the Gonski funding period of 2013-2017 funding for public schools was cut but increased for private schools.

While the Western Australian Government increased current dollar funding of public schools between 2009 and 2017, it cut real funding by an incredible $1,575 (-13.7%) per student. In the Gonski funding period it cut public school funding by $737 (-6.9%) per student. The cuts mean that public schools have far fewer human and material resources per student.

The Western Australian Government took the opportunity of increased Commonwealth funding for public schools to cut its own real funding of public schools.

Government funding increases have been badly mis-directed in favouring the more privileged, better-off school sectors and students. Nearly 90% of disadvantaged students in Western Australia are in public schools.

Total income of schools 2017

The total income per student of Western Australian Independent schools was 34% more than in public schools in 2017 while that of Catholic schools was 7% higher. The total income of public schools was $15,473 compared to $20,708 in Independent schools and $16,591 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 increased massively since 2009. Total real income per student in public schools fell by $1,437 (-10.6%) per student but increased by $1,850 (16.4%) in Catholic schools and by $2,154 (15.1%) 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 private schools and much reduced funding of public schools by the Western Australian Government [Chart 2].

Real government funding for public schools was cut by $1,375 (-10.5%) per student while funding for Catholic schools increased by $1,195 per student (14.7%) and for Independent schools by $1,181 (17.4%).

The Commonwealth increased real funding for Catholic schools by $1,206 (21.1%) per student and by $1,001 (21.5%) for Independent schools compared to $200 (12.3%) for public schools.

The Western Australian Government cut real funding for public schools by $1,575 (-13.7%) per student while reducing its funding of Catholic by only $11 (-0.5%) per student and increasing its funding of Independent schools by $180 (8.5%) per student.

Private schools also increased fees and other income by much more than cost increases. After allowing for inflation, Catholic schools increased fees and other income by $666 (20.9%) per student and Independent schools by $967 (12.9%).

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 has also widened since the introduction of the Gonski funding plan in 2014. Total income per student in public schools increased fell by $677 (4.7%) compared to an increase of $584 (4.6%) in Catholic schools and $647 (4.1%) in Independent schools [Chart 3].

The increased disparity in this period was mainly due to larger Commonwealth funding increases for private schools than for public schools, much larger cuts to funding of public schools than for private schools by the Western Australian Government.

Real government funding per student in public schools was cut by $645 (-5.2%) per student but increased for Catholic schools by $401 (4.5%) and by $611 (8.3%) in Independent schools.

The Commonwealth increased real funding for private schools by over seven times that for public schools. The increase for Catholic schools was $663 (10.6%) per student and $682 (13.7%) for Independent schools compared to $92 (5.3%) in public schools.

The Western Australian Government cut real funding for public schools by $737 (-6.9%) per student, by $262 (-9.8%) for Catholic schools and by $71 (-3%) in Independent schools.

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 for Western Australian public schools will continue to be cut while private schools will continue to be over-funded

Under the new Commonwealth/Western Australian funding agreement Western Australian public schools will continue to be cut from 100% of their Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) in 2018 to only 91% by 2023 while private schools are likely to continue to be funded at over 100%.

Under the agreement, the Commonwealth will increase its funding of public schools from 15.4% of the SRS in 2018 to 20% by 2023 while the Western Australian Government will reduce its share from 84.4% to 75% by 2023. However, an accounting trick in the agreement allows the Western Australian Government to claim other non-school based expenditure up to 4% of the SRS towards its commitment. This means it will reduce its funding by even more to 71% of the SRS by 2023. Consequently, Western Australian public schools will only be funded at 91% of their SRS in future. The cumulative under-funding to 2027 will amount to about $4.6 billion.

The Commonwealth has guaranteed that Western Australian private schools will be funded at 80% of their SRS by 2023 (they are currently funded at 78%). They are also funded at 26% of their SRS by the Western Australian Government and there is a caveat in the agreement that allows them to continue to be funded at above 20%. Thus, Western Australian private schools are currently funded at over 100% of their SRS and this will very likely continue indefinitely.

In addition, Western Australian private schools will receive an additional $199 million under the funding arrangements announced by the Morrison Government last year to apply over ten years from 2020. It will ensure that Western 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

The immediate priority is to pressure the Western Australian Government to continue to fund public schools at over 80% of their SRS for as long as it continues to over-fund 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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