Capital expenditure on schools is an issue in the NSW election campaign. Both Liberal and Labor have promised to increase capital expenditure significantly, but they have conspicuously failed to say how the increases will be distributed between government and private schools. There is a strong case that the large part of the promised spending should go to government schools because capital expenditure in private schools is much higher than in government schools.
In 2012 (the latest year for which data is available), capital expenditure per student in Independent schools was three times higher than in government schools – $2390 per student compared to $748 per student in government schools. Capital expenditure in Catholic schools was 35 per cent higher than in government schools – $1007 per student compared to $748 per student.
Capital expenditure in Catholic and Independent schools was much higher than in government schools in every year from 2009 to 2012, except in the case of Catholic schools in 2010 when expenditure was slightly less than in government schools.
Government schools are totally dependent on the Federal and NSW governments for capital expenditure. In contrast, Catholic and Independent schools can also draw on income from fees and other private sources such as building foundations to fund their capital expenditure. They can also take out loans from financial institutions, a facility not available to government schools.
As a result, equal increases in Federal or state government capital expenditure for government schools and private schools would enable private schools to continue to outspend government schools on infrastructure facilities by drawing on their other sources of income. This would continue to ensure that private schools have higher quality physical infrastructure than government schools. Providing equal increases in government funding for capital expenditure for government and private schools is therefore a way to ensure a continuing advantage for private schools in physical infrastructure.
The next NSW government must ensure that capital expenditure per student in government schools is increased to reduce the gap in the quality of physical infrastructure with that of Catholic and Independent schools. Any further increases in capital expenditure for Independent schools would only compound their existing advantage.