High SES Catholic Schools are Over-Funded

A new research paper published by Save Our Schools shows that virtually all high SES Catholic combined and secondary schools in Australia are over-funded compared to what they are entitled to according to their socio-economic capacity. Their actual funding per student is higher than the funding rate that applies to their SES score. Other private schools on the same SES scores get much less funding.

The paper challenges claims by Catholic education authorities that they re-distribute funds from high income to disadvantaged Catholic schools. It shows that these claims are misleading and untrue in many cases when actual Federal funding figures on My School are analysed.

All high SES non-systemic Catholic schools that are funding maintained retain their over-funding. Many receive double or more the funding they would be entitled to if they were funded at their SES funding rate. Examples in NSW include Mt. St. Benedict College which was over-funded by $3195 per student in 2010, Loreto Kirribilli by $3182, St. Pius X College by $2724 and Brigidine College by $2486. In the ACT, Daramalan College was over-funded by $3307 per student and Marist College by $2876. None of this over-funding is re-distributed to low SES Catholic schools.

High SES systemic Catholic schools in NSW and the ACT also appear to retain all their over-funding. In many cases, the over-funding is also double or more what schools are entitled to. For example, in NSW Mercy College was over-funded by $5777 per student, St. Leo’s College by $4397 and Mater Maria College by $4115. In the ACT, Merici College was over-funded by $3593 per student and St. Clare’s College by $3182.

High SES systemic Catholic schools in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia appear to have part of their over-funding re-distributed but they still retain the large part – about 60% on average; that is, they remain significantly over-funded despite some re-distribution.

In Victoria, Siena College was over-funded by $2348 per student in 2010, Star of the Sea College by $1946 and De La Salle College by $1755. Loreto Mandeville Hall and St. Kevin’s College, both in Toorak, were over-funded by $1584 and $1056 per student respectively.

In Queensland, over-funded high SES systemic Catholic schools included Stuartholme School by $2866 per student, Mt. St. Michael’s College by $2584 per student and All Hallows School by $2408 per student. In South Australia, Mercedes College was over-funded by $1615 per student and John XXIII College in Western Australia was over-funded by $2648 per student.

The over-funding was estimated by comparing the Federal Government funding rates for SES scores (published by the Federal Department of Education), the funding maintained rates (published by the Senate Estimates committee) and actual Federal funding received as reported on My School. The funding rates compared are for 2010.

A qualification to these estimates is that the My School figures include all recurrent Federal grants, including funding under the National Partnership program for literacy and numeracy and funding for trade training centres. However, these funding programs generally apply to lower SES schools and not to high SES schools so it is unlikely that these schools receive significant funding from these programs which would offset any re-distribution of funding from high SES Catholic schools to lower SES schools.

The report says that it is not good enough for Catholic education systems to get billions of dollars in taxpayer funds and not have to account for how they distribute this funding to member schools. A 2009 National Audit Office report and the Gonski report on school funding both criticised the lack of transparency on how school systems distribute taxpayer funds to their member schools.

The report calls on the Federal Government to adopt the recommendation of the Gonski report that school systems should disclose how they allocate taxpayer funds to member schools. It says that the recommendation should be written into school funding legislation.

The Gonski report also strongly criticised the funding maintained arrangements which deliver massive over-funding to private schools. It found that funding maintained schools in Australia were over-funded by $615 million in 2010, of which nearly $500 million went to Catholic schools. All the over-funding goes to medium and high SES schools, with about $250 million going to high SES schools.

The Gonski report recommended that all private schools on the same SES score should be funded at the same rate to ensure fairness and integrity in school funding. However, it failed to recommend how this should be done – whether the funding maintained schools should have their funding reduced or whether schools currently funded at their SES rate should have their funding increased to match the funding maintained rates. This is a challenge for the Federal Government, especially given its new “no losers” guarantee to private schools.

The massive over-funding of high SES Catholic (and other high SES private schools) is a barrier to reducing the large achievement gap between rich and poor identified in the Gonski report. It compounds a large resource advantage for high SES schools and it denies much-needed funds to disadvantaged government and private schools.

This over-funding should be diverted to better support disadvantaged schools and students. The $615 million a year would be a good initial down-payment on the Gonski report’s recommendation for a $5 billion funding increase for disadvantaged government and private schools.

Trevor Cobbold

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