NSW Parliament Report Rejects Private School Claims on Funding for Students With Disabilities

A NSW parliamentary committee report has rejected claims by private school organisations that students with disabilities in private schools receive less special funding than students with disabilities in government schools. The report recommends an increase in funding for students with disabilities in NSW government schools but not for private schools.

This is a major blow to private school organisations. They have campaigned long and hard on the myth that students with disabilities in private schools are under-funded compared to those in government schools.

The report took on board extensive evidence from a variety of government school organisations, teachers and parents that funding for students with disabilities in NSW government schools is inadequate. It recommended that the NSW Government substantially increase funding for students with disabilities and special needs in government schools to ensure all students have equitable access to education.

In contrast, the report made no recommendation for an increase in funding for students with disabilities in private schools despite claims from private school organisations and parents about under-funding in comparison with government schools.

It is apparent from the report, that the Save Our Schools submission to the inquiry had a significant influence on this outcome. It was the only submission to the inquiry that provided a detailed analysis and critique of the private school claims. The report notes that the submission provided a detailed analysis of government funding for students with disabilities in private and government schools and it cites extensively from the submission.

Despite being given a special opportunity to respond to the SOS submission by the parliamentary committee, the NSW Association of Independent Schools and the NSW Catholic Education Commission had no effective response to the analysis.

The SOS submission demonstrated that far from being under-funded for students with disabilities, NSW private schools have a significant funding advantage over government schools in funding for students with disabilities. Additional funding for students with disabilities in NSW private schools was 26 to 38% higher per student than that available to NSW government schools in 2008, depending on which data source is used for the analysis.

On average, the additional funding for students with disabilities in NSW Catholic schools was $24 680 per student, or 23% higher than in government schools. The additional funding for students with disabilities in NSW Independent schools was $35 800 per student, nearly 80% higher than in government schools.

The private school claims about under-funding are incorrect because they only consider direct additional government funding for these students. They ignore substantial indirect additional funding for students with disabilities in private schools which occurs because the Commonwealth and NSW Government general recurrent grants to private schools are linked to government school costs, which includes the costs of educating students with disabilities.

Government schools enrol a much higher proportion of enrolments of SWD than private schools (5.9% compared to an average of 3.5% in NSW) and incur correspondingly higher costs. Private schools receive a portion of this higher expenditure even though they enrol far fewer of these students than government schools. This provides a source of additional funding for SWD in private schools or which can be diverted to other students. The extra funding amounts to double-dipping by private schools.

The current system of government funding of private schools contains perverse incentives for private schools to limit their enrolment of students with disabilities. The lower the enrolment ratio of these students, the greater is the additional funding available for them or to be diverted to other students. It is the link with government school costs which provides the disincentive for private schools to enrol more students with disabilities, not inadequate direct government funding for these students.

Another perversity in the current funding arrangements is that students with disabilities in the most highly resourced NSW private schools receive the highest additional per capita funding from the NSW Government while those in the most disadvantaged private schools receive the lowest level of additional funding.

As the parliamentary committee’s report recommends, there is a clear need to make funding for students with disabilities more transparent. This will now become an issue for the current federal review of school funding.

Save Our Schools has proposed that additional funding for students with disabilities should be the same for each student, irrespective of the sector in which they are enrolled. However, to avoid continued double dipping by private schools, the costs of educating students with disabilities in government schools should also be removed from the calculation of average government school costs used as the basis of government funding for private schools.

Trevor Cobbold

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