Education Ministers Must Renounce Accounting Tricks and Fully Fund Public Schools

Education Ministers meet at the end of this week in the context of ongoing negotiations over a new school funding agreement. The Ministers may not finalise their negotiations at the meeting, but it is important that they agree to three basic principles as the foundation for the new agreements. They are:

  • All public schools will be fully funded by 2028;
  • The accounting tricks perpetrated in the current agreements that swindle public schools of billions in funding will be abandoned;
  • The Commonwealth Government should increase its share of funding public schools.

These simple principles must be agreed on if ministers are serious about delivering a quality public education system for the future. Their adoption would secure the future of funding for public schools and give confidence to principals, teachers and parents for the future of public schools.

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Over One Billion of Taxpayer Funding Squandered on Over-Funding the Richest Families and Schools

New figures reveal a scandalous squandering of $1.3-1.4 billion in Commonwealth Government over-funding private schools that enrol children of the richest families in Australia. The over-funding estimate is based on never before published data provided to Senate Estimates on the median income of families with children in private schools. This over-funding of the schools of the rich is in stark contrast to massive under-funding of public schools that serve the vast majority of disadvantaged students. The current school funding system heavily favours the already advantaged sectors of Australian society at the expense of the most disadvantaged. There is still no plan by governments to correct this grossly unfair system.

The new estimates show that just 105 private schools with a median family income of $209,000 or more a year will be over-funded by $692 million over the period 2022-2028 (see Table 1). These schools are over-funded relative to the amount they should receive as the Commonwealth funding share of their School Resourcing Standard (SRS).  There are 52 schools with a median family income of over $260,000 per year and they will be over-funded by $316.7 million. Twenty-one schools with family income between $234,000 and $260,000 will be over-funded by $163/8 million while 32 schools with a family income between $209,000 and $234,000 will be over-funded by $211.7 million. These 105 schools will receive $4.9 billion in Commonwealth funding during 2022-2028.

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WA School Funding Agreement Defrauds Public Schools

The new school funding agreement between the Albanese and Western Australian Governments is a significant step forward for the funding of public schools. It has several positives but the claim that WA public schools will be fully funded by 2026 is simply untrue. Public schools will under-funded by about $1.6 billion over the next five years.

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Nearly 4 in 5 Australian Students Didn’t Fully Try in PISA Tests

Unpublished data provided to Save Our Schools by the OECD shows that nearly 4 in 5 Australian students did not fully try in the 2022 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The figures show wide differences in student effort between countries, which call into question the validity of country rankings of PISA results. Even more importantly, the high proportion of students in Australia and many other countries not fully trying in PISA indicates a broader problem, namely increasing student disaffection with learning and school. This appears to be a crucial factor behind declining results in many OECD countries that is often ignored in the commentary on Australia’s PISA results.

The new figures show that 77% of Australian students didn’t fully try in PISA 2022. This was the equal 4th highest proportion in the OECD. It was also the equal 4th highest of the 81 countries and regions participating in the tests. Only Denmark (81%), Sweden (80%), Germany (80%), Switzerland (80%) and Belgium (78%) had a higher proportion of students who did not fully try (Chart 1). Norway, UK, Austria and Singapore had the same proportion as Australia. The average for the OECD was 71%. Türkiye had the lowest proportion (47%) amongst OECD countries.

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Productivity Commission Should Recommend Ending Tax Deductibility For All Donations To Private Schools

The Productivity Commission has recommended that school building funds no longer be eligible for tax deductible donations. It should go further and end tax deductibility for all donations to private schools which are primarily benefiting the richest schools in the nation.

In its Draft Report on Philanthropy, the Commission made a compelling case to end the tax concession for school building funds. It said there is no rationale for the concession and that the benefits accrue to individuals connected with the schools rather than providing community wide benefits. This finding applies just as much to other tax-deductible funds operated by private schools, but the Commission failed to apply its principled approach consistently by recommending ending tax deductibility for all donations to private schools. It should do so in its final report.

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Private Schools Had The Biggest Decline in PISA Results

Catholic and Independent schools had the biggest declines in the OECD’s Programme of Student Assessment (PISA) test results since 2009. Their students lost 1½ to nearly two years of learning in reading, mathematics and science. The falls in test scores were far bigger than for public schools.

The learning loss in Catholic and Independent schools occurred even though they were heavily favoured by government funding increases since 2009. Government (Commonwealth and state/territory) funding, adjusted for inflation, increased by $2,697 per student in Catholic schools and by $2,310 in Independent schools between 2009 and 2021 compared to $1,062 in public schools.

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PISA Results Intensify Pressure on Governments to Fully Fund Public Schools

The OECD’s 2022 PISA results reveal Australia has one of the most unequal school systems in the OECD and that inequality is increasing. There are large achievement gaps in reading, mathematics and science of five or more years of learning at age 15 and the gaps have widened since 2006. As well, a large and growing proportion of disadvantaged students do not achieve international standards.

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Government Funding of Public Prmary Schools

The following is an overview of a paper on primary school funding and outcomes prepared for the Australian Government Primary Principals’ Association. It can be downloaded below.

Over the past twelve years, government funding increases have heavily favoured private primary schools over public schools. Since 2009, funding for private primary schools has increased by about three times that for public schools. Funding increases for Catholic and Independent primary schools have ensured their income per student is much higher than that of public primary schools. This provides private primary schools with a large human and material resource advantage.

Public schools are massively under-funded and this will continue until at least the end of the decade unless the current funding arrangements are dramatically revised. Public schools in all states except the ACT will be only funded to 91% or less of their Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) by 2029. By contrast, Catholic and Independent schools will be funded at over 100% of their SRS.

The misdirection of large funding increases to the more privileged Catholic and Independent school sectors has major consequences for national student achievement because money matters in education. Inadequate funding means that public primary schools cannot fully address major learning challenges. Public schools enrol over 80% of low SES, Indigenous, remote area and high disability students. Large proportions of disadvantaged primary school students do not achieve national standards in literacy and numeracy and the achievement gaps between them and high SES students amount to about two years of learning by Year 5.

The new National School Reform Agreement and the new Commonwealth-State funding agreements to be negotiated next year which will apply from 2025 should ensure that public schools are funded at 100% of their SRS. This should include removing the provisions in the current agreements that allow the states to defraud public schools by counting expenditures excluded from the design of the SRS towards their share of the SRS.

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Close the Achievement Gaps Between Rich and Poor

New analysis of the latest NAPLAN results reveals large achievement gaps in literacy and numeracy between rich and poor students at all Year levels tested. The gaps are up to five and more years of learning by Year 9. Very high proportions of disadvantaged students need of extra help at school to make expected progress through school. The vast inequities harm individual lives, restrict economic growth and foment an unequal and divided society.

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Private School Funding Model is Increasingly Incoherent, Irrational and Wasteful

The private school funding model introduced by the Morrison Government is becoming more and more incoherent and irrational. It purports to assess the financial need of private schools by the income of families with children in private schools. However, it ignores a growing source of income and assets of better-off families – the Bank of Mum and Dad. As a result, the Commonwealth Government is increasingly over-estimating the financial need of schools and, consequently, increasing their over-funding.

The Bank of Mum and Dad provides a steady stream of income to more advantaged families. It includes full or partial payment of school fees by grandparents. It also includes money for home deposits or purchases and other expenditures such as cars, household assets, childcare, etc. that frees up income so it can be spent on school fees. None of this income is included in the assessment of the capacity of parents to pay school fees.

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