Gonski Review Should Terminate Funding Bonanza for the Wealthy

The SES funding model is providing millions and millions of dollars in over-funding to many of Melbourne’s more privileged families and schools. In 2011, 20 primary and secondary schools in high income suburbs were over-funded by $43 million (see table below).

Total Federal Government funding for these schools was nearly double what they were entitled to under the SES scheme. Under the scheme they were only entitled to $48.7 million, but instead they got $91.8 million.

St. Kevin’s College in Toorak was over-funded by $6.2 million; Genazzano Fcj College in Kew was over-funded by $4.3 million; De La Salle College in Malvern was over-funded by $3.8 million; and Loreto Mandeville Hall in Toorak was over-funded by $3.6 million (all these are totals for primary and secondary).

Six of the top over-funded primary schools received more than $1 million in over-funding in 2011. These included Our Lady of Good Counsel in Deepdene ($1.4 million), St. Monica’s in Moonee Ponds ($1.2 million), St. Kevin’s ($1.1 million) and St. Dominic’s in Camberwell ($1.1 million).

Several schools in were over-funded by more than $3,000 per student. Their actual funding was over twice their assessed SES (socio-economic status) funding rate.

Among the secondary schools, Loreto Mandeville Hall in Toorak was over-funded by $4,255 per student while over-funding for Genazzano Fcj College in Kew was $3,957 per student. St.Kevin’s College in Toorak was over-funded by $3,658 per student and Siena College in Camberwell by $3,359. The total funding for many was 2-3 times more than their assessed SES rate.

The SES scheme has been a funding bonanza for private schools. Total over-funding is now running at about $700 million a year as only 50% of private schools in Australia are funded at their assessed SES rate. Total over-funding since the scheme began in 2001 will be over $6 billion by the end of this year.

This over-funding has been a tremendous waste. It has all gone to medium and high SES private schools. No low SES private school gets over-funded.

The $6 billion would have been more effectively spent on reducing education disadvantage. It could have been instrumental in reducing the huge achievement gap between rich and poor in Australia instead of compounding it.

Surely, the SES funding model has reached its “use-by date”. Hopefully, the Gonski school funding review has recommended that it be terminated and replaced by a new funding model designed to improve equity in education.

The top over-funded primary and secondary schools in Melbourne are all Catholic schools. The Catholic Education Commission claims that it does not distribute the funding as allocated by the Federal Government and that it re-distributes some funding from its higher SES schools to lower SES schools.

To the extent this is true it is an admission of the failure of the SES model. The whole rationale for the model was that schools most in need would receive the largest grants. Yet, the largest private school sector in Australia admits that its own high SES schools are being allocated too much funding and it has to re-distribute funding to lower SES schools.

However, there is reason to question the Commission’s claims as they are contradicted by a 2009 report of the Australian National Audit Office. The report says that its analysis “found that systemic schools with low SES scores (that is, schools servicing low socio-economic communities) receive less Australian Government general recurrent grants per student from their school systems than if they were directly funded under the SES arrangements…” [p.22].

This is a grave charge by the Auditor-General. The Catholic Education Commission should be fully transparent about its use of taxpayer funds. It should publish its funding formula for schools and how much federal funding each school received in 2011.

Trevor Cobbold

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