ACT Private Schools are Over-Funded

Canberra’s private schools received $43 million more than they were entitled to in 2010 under the Federal Government’s funding formula. Almost every private school benefitted from the over-funding.

Out of Canberra’s 43 private schools, only Girls’ Grammar, Boys’ Grammar and the small Blue Gum school missed out. However, they too benefit from flaws in the SES (socio-economic status) funding model.

Ten secondary schools got $23.5 million in over-funding (see tables below). These included Daramalan ($4.1 million), Marist ($3.5 million), St. Clare’s ($3 million) and Mary McKillop College ($2.5 million). Total federal recurrent funding for Daramalan and Marist was nearly double their official entitlement.

Ten primary schools got $8.7 million in over-funding. The Good Shepherd School in Amaroo got $1.3 million, the Holy Spirit in Nicholls $1.2 million while Burgmann Anglican School and Sts. Peter and Paul’s each received $0.9 million.

The top 10 over-funded primary and secondary schools in Canberra are all high SES schools. Many received $2000-$3000 per student in over-funding. For example, St. Bede’s in Red Hill has the highest SES score of any school in Canberra and received more over-funding per student than any other primary school ($3079 per student). Its total federal government funding of $4549 per student was over three times its entitlement of $1470 per student.

Brindabella Christian School had the highest over-funding per student of the secondary schools at $3355 per student. Its total funding of $6489 per secondary student was double its entitlement of $3134 per student. Yet, it has one of the highest SES scores of all private secondary schools in the ACT.

The over-funding is the result of a “no losers” guarantee provided by the Howard Government when the SES funding scheme was introduced in 2001. Under the scheme, recurrent funding for each private school is determined by the socio-economic status of families of students enrolled at the school. However, the “no losers” guarantee ensured that no school lost funding in joining the scheme. Schools which were receiving more funding than warranted by their SES score were allowed to keep it. They are called “funding maintained” schools.

About 50 per cent of all private schools in Australia and about 60 per cent of private school students are over-funded. The total over-funding is about $700 million a year and much of it goes to higher SES schools.

While the two Canberra Grammar schools miss out on over-funding, they still benefit from flaws in the SES model. The model is based on the SES characteristics of areas in which families reside rather than on the actual SES of families whose children are enrolled in the schools.

Urban planning in Canberra means that higher and lower income families often reside in the same area but it is only the higher income families who can afford Grammar fees. This artificially lowers the SES scores of the two Grammars because these students are classified by their lower area SES measure rather than by their higher family SES. As a result, they receive higher levels of funding than is warranted by their actual SES.

The SES funding model is wasting millions of dollars on those least in need while those most in need struggle against the odds with inadequate funding. While many of Canberra’s high SES private schools are being over-funded by $2000-$3000 per student while the most disadvantaged government schools get little to no additional funding.

All that a few disadvantaged government schools get is less than $400 per student under the Literacy and Numeracy National Partnership program. Even several high SES private schools get this funding as well, including the Grammar schools and Radford College, while other much more disadvantaged government schools miss out entirely.

The current approach to funding private schools is a scandal. It is incoherent, wasteful and highly inequitable.

The current review of school funding must come up with a fairer model that directs government funding to where it is most needed, not to where it is least needed. It must ensure increased funding for government schools because they enrol the vast majority of disadvantaged students.

Trevor Cobbold

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