Labor Chooses Privilege Over Fairness in Education

Labor has chosen privilege over fairness in school funding. It has chosen to continue the massive over-funding of Australia’s wealthiest schools and dumped its commitment to fully fund public schools. It is a craven capitulation to the powerful interests in private schools. It denies resources to those most in need. Fairness in school funding has missed out in Labor’s election campaign.

Labor has endorsed Morrison’s massive over-funding of private schools, including hundreds of millions of dollars for the most exclusive schools in Australia. Labor Education Shadow Minister, Tanya Plibersek, recently said that “Catholic and independent schools will not have their funding touched” by a Labor Government. In doing so, she endorsed the rapacious greed of the wealthy for taxpayer resources.

Exclusive Independent schools are massively over-funded by the Morrison Government. Just 50 schools will be over-funded by nearly $400 million from 2022 to 2028 under the current funding arrangements, an average of $8 million per school (see Table below).

Newington College in Sydney will be over-funded by $13.3 million. It charges of fees of $27,095 and 76% of its students are from the top socio-educational advantage (SEA) quartile and 95% are from the top two quartiles but only 1% are from the bottom quartile.

Haileybury College in Melbourne will be over funded by $22 million. It charges fees of $27,095 and 77% of its students are from the top SEA quartile while 95% are from the top two quartiles, but only 1% are from the bottom quartile.

Brisbane Grammar will be over-funded by $12.9 million. Its average fees are $26,031 and 88% of its students are from the top SEA quartile and 98% are from the top two quartiles. It has no students from the lowest quartile.

Hale School in Perth will be over-funded by $10.8 million. Its fees are $26,148 and 70% of its students are from the top SEA quartile and 91% are from the top two quartiles. Only 2% area from the bottom quartile.

St Peter’s College in Adelaide will be over-funded by $11.9 million. Its fees average $23,670 and 69% of its students are from the top SEA quartile and 90% are from the top two quartiles.

Every one of these 50 exclusive schools have over 60% of their students from the top SEA quartile. Many have around 80% and more. Every school has around 90% or more from the top two quartiles and only 1-3% from the bottom quartile. They all have fees or around $20,000 and up to $30,000. Their over-funding ranges from $4 billion to $22 billion. Yet Labor won’t touch it. Instead, it chooses to continue the chronic under-funding of public schools.

The Catholic system is also heavily over-funded and will remain so until at least 2028 under the current funding arrangements. Its cumulative over-funding from 2022 to 2028 will amount to about $1.3 billion. The Independent sector will be over-funded by about $1.4 billion. In total, private schools will be over-funded by about $3.7 billion. These estimates do not include other sources of over-funding for private schools by the Commonwealth Government such as the $1.2 billion Choice and Accountability slush fund nor over-funding by state governments.

Source: SOS estimates from data provided by the Commonwealth Department of Education in Answer to Question on Notice SQ21-000848, 2020-2021 Budget Estimates.

In contrast, public schools will continue to be massively under-funded by state governments under the terms of the fraudulent Commonwealth-State bilateral funding agreements. While Catholic and Independent schools will be funded at over 100% of their Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) until 2029, public schools will be funded at less than 91% of their SRS until at least 2029. SOS estimates the cumulative under-funding of public schools from 2022 to 2029 at $53 billion.

Labor has offered only token increases for public schools compared with what is needed. The dire state of public school funding is virtually ignored. It was not even mentioned in Anthony Albanese’s campaign launch. The idea of fairness in school funding was entirely absent from his speech.

Tanya Plibersek won’t even guarantee that public schools will be fully funded under a Labor Government. She has resiled from promises that Labor would ensure that public schools are fully funded at 100% of their SRS. Now, all she will say is that under-funded public schools will be better off under Labor. This is not good enough.

A Labor Government must choose between privilege and fairness in education. It will face budget challenges to properly fund health, aged care and the NDIS, having ditched previous policies to reduce tax concessions worth billions for the wealthy. Apart from looking at other sources of revenue, stopping the sheer waste in over-funding private schools would help make some progress, albeit small, towards better funding of public schools.

If Labor still believes in fairness it must step up much more for public schools. It must ensure that public schools are fully funded within the next five years. It should increase the funding loadings for disadvantaged students and it must immediately revise the Commonwealth-State bilateral funding agreements that are defrauding public schools of billions in funding. A Labor Government must ensure that the states also fulfil their responsibility to public schools.

The Greens say they will support funding public schools at 100% of their SRS but have not committed to stopping the over-funding of private schools. Independent candidates are campaigning hard in several electorates and they may have the balance of power in the new Parliament. They cannot remain silent on the over-funding of wealthy private schools and the chronic under-funding of public schools. They also have to choose between privilege and fairness in education.

Over-Funding of Australia’s Most Exclusive Private Schools

Note: The SRS shares and the estimated over-funding for Brisbane Boys College, Clayfield College and Somerville House are the average for the Presbyterian & Methodist Schools Association

Source: Estimated from data provided by the Commonwealth Department of Education in Answer to Question on Notice SQ21-000848, 2020-2021 Budget Estimates.

A story based on this article was published in The Australian on 4 May.

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