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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SOS Submission to Inquiry Into the State Education System in Victoria

Save OUr Schools has made a substantial submission to an inquiry on the Victorian education system being held by the Legal and Social Issues Committee, Legislative Council, Parliament of Victoria. The submission can be downloaded below.

The Victorian Labor Government claims that Victorian is the education state. This is a complete misnomer. Victoria is a failed education state. It has failed disadvantaged students and public schools.

  • Many disadvantaged students do not achieve minimum literacy and numeracy standards;
  • There was virtually no learning improvement by disadvantaged students between 2010 and 2022 and several declines.
  • There are large achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students.

There were a few successes, most notably in some Indigenous outcomes, but they are few and far between. In addition, there have been a significant increase in the proportion of students completing Year 12, although too many still do not achieve this.

School funding failures by the Commonwealth and Victorian governments are a major factor behind these education failures. Public schools in Victoria face a funding crisis. They are massively under-funded while private schools are over-funded. Funding increases over the past decade have heavily favoured private schools. Public schools are defrauded by the current Commonwealth-Victoria bilateral funding agreement. The result is that public schools have far fewer resources than private schools and large learning gaps persist between advantage and disadvantaged students.

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The Facts About School Funding in Victoria – An Update

Public schools in Victoria as elsewhere in Australia face a funding crisis. The key aspects of this crisis are:

  • Government funding increases have heavily favoured private schools over public schools since 2009;
  • Independent and Catholic school in Victoria have a large resource advantage over public schools;
  • Public schools are massively under-funded despite enrolling 80% or more of disadvantaged students and will remain so into the next decade unless the current funding arrangements are over-hauled;
  • By contrast, private schools are over-funded;
  • If Victoria is to truly become an education state, it must fully fund public schools to increase equity in school outcomes.
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Fully Funding Private Schools is No Solution to Inequity in Education

This article is a summary of a new Education Policy Brief. The full Brief can be downloaded below.

The proposal of Tom Greenwell and Chris Bonnor to fully fund private schools. subject to them not charging fees and not enrolling students on the basis of ability, abrogates key long standing principles of public education, namely, that public schools are secular and do not discriminate on the basis of student background. The proposal explicitly permits private schools to promulgate their religious beliefs and values and to discriminate against students and teachers who do not share these beliefs. This is anathema to the founding principles of public education. Public schools must remain secular and take all comers, whatever their background, to provide access to education for all and to promote understanding and tolerance between different social groups.

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The Next National Schools Agreement Must Clearly Define Equity Goal

The Expert Panel reviewing the National Schools Reform Agreement (NSRA) has failed to adequately define   equity goals for the next Agreement. Its Consultation Paper released last month Panel adopted a flawed definition proposed by the Productivity Commission in its report on the Agreement. The Panel must revise its definition of equity in its final report to the Government in October. Failure to do so will mean continued failure to address the massive achievement gaps between rich and poor.

The current NSRA conspicuously fails to provide a clearly defined equity goal. It has perpetrated different meanings and interpretations of what constitutes equity in education This in turn leads to policy confusion and even contradictory approaches to improving equity. As a result many students continue to be denied an adequate education and achievement gaps between privileged and less privileged students continue. it also allows governments to avoid accountability for these failures and to misdirect funding increases to school sectors least in need.

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The Lost Decade of School Autonomy in NSW

It is just over ten years since the school autonomy program called Local Schools, Local Decisions commenced in NSW. It has been a lost decade. It was supposed to increased student results but high inequity in education continues with more bureaucracy, less central support for schools and bigger workloads for principals and teachers.

The stated goal of Local Schools, Local Decisions was to improve student outcomes.  There is scant evidence of this in NSW NAPLAN results. They show shocking inequalities in school outcomes between highly advantaged and disadvantaged students with few improvements since 2010. 

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School Autonomy and Social Justice in Education

The following is a speech by Trevor Cobbold to a form at Deakin Univeristy to launch a report on School Autonomy Reform and Social Justice in Australian Public Education. The Report is available here.

First of all, I would like to congratulate the project team on its work. It has provided one of the most comprehensive reviews of the literature on school autonomy and contributed greatly to our knowledge about the implementation of school autonomy in Australian schools and its impact on students, teachers and principals.

Rather than review the array of its findings I would like to focus on a few key issues:

  • The meaning of social justice in education;
  • School autonomy and student achievement;
  • School autonomy and the bureaucratisation of schooling.
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The School Funding System is Heavily Biased Against Public Schools

The following is a slightly revised version of a presentation by Trevor Cobbold to a Policy Symposium on Funding, Equity and Achievement in Australian Schools held at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education on 17 April.

Ten years ago, the Gonski funding model promised much to reduce the vast inequity in school funding and outcomes. What we got was the reverse, courtesy of sabotage by successive Coalition governments, which have always favoured choice over equity, and because of the failure of state governments to deliver adequate funding for public schools.

School funding in Australia is in a parlous state. It is heavily biased against public schools and systematically favours private schools in terms of past funding increases, resource levels and current funding arrangements. Fixing this is not on the immediate agenda of the Albanese Government. All it has done is delay addressing it with yet another inquiry when we already know what has to be done.

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