Govt. Funding Increases Have Favoured the Wealthiest Schools

New figures show that Australia’s wealthiest school sector received the biggest increases in government funding over much of the past decade. Government funding of Independent schools has increased by nearly double the rate of increase for government schools since 2001-02. It has left Independent schools much better resourced than government schools.

Total government funding (federal & state) per student in Independent schools increased by 82% between 2001-02 and 2008-09 compared to a 48% increase for government schools [Table 1]. The funding increase for Catholic schools of 64% was also much bigger than increase for government schools.

Independent schools constitute the wealthiest school sector in Australia. On average, Independent schools spent $16,309 per student in 2008-09 compared to $11,591 per student by government schools [Table 2]. Their total expenditure was 40% higher than in government schools. This resource advantage is entirely due to government funding. Government funding of Independent schools in 2008-09 was $6,991 per student.

Catholic schools are at least as well resourced as government schools. Catholic school expenditure in 2008-09 was $11,539 per student. If payroll tax and student transport subsidies were removed from government school expenditure because they are not included in private school expenditure, Catholic schools would be seen to be significantly better resourced than government schools. These items amount to about $700-$800 per student in government schools.

The new figures on school expenditure and government funding are published in a statistical attachment to the latest National Report on Schooling in Australia, published by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).

Table 41 shows that total expenditure by Catholic schools in 2009 was $12,251 per student and in Independent schools was $17,042 per student. Government (federal & state) funding of Catholic schools was $8987 per student and $7694 per student in Independent schools in 2009. Table 36 shows that government school expenditure/funding was $13,544 per student in 2008-09.

These private school expenditure and funding figures are published for calendar years and have been converted by Save Our Schools to financial years to provide greater comparability with the government school figures.

Save Our Schools has also adjusted the government school figures to exclude the user cost of capital charge on government school assets ($1,953 per student in 2008-09) because a similar charge is not made on private school assets contributed by government funding. ACARA has previously accepted the advice of the financial consulting firm, Deloittes, not to include a user cost of capital charge in school expenditure figures published on My School.

The new figures demonstrate the perversity of government funding policies over the last decade. They have clearly favoured private schools. The biggest funding increases have gone to the wealthiest school sector whose large resource advantage over government schools is entirely due to government funding.

Yet, it is government schools which do the heavy lifting in education. Nearly 80% of low socio-economic status (SES) students, 86% of Indigenous students, 84% of remote area students and 80% of students with disabilities attend government schools. Low SES students are two to three years of learning behind high SES students at age 15. Indigenous students are three to four years behind high SES students and remote area students are two to three years behind.

Despite their bigger challenges, government schools received the smallest increase in government funding of any sector since 2001-02. Successive government funding policies have favoured privilege over disadvantage. We can only hope that the Gonski review of school funding, with its stated focus on improving equity, has recommended a thorough-going overhaul.

Trevor Cobbold

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