Private Schools Will Get a Funding Bonanza from Voucher Models

School funding models proposed to the School Funding Review by Independent Schools Victoria (ISV) and the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) feather the nest of private schools, especially the wealthiest schools. They would deliver a massive funding boost to private schools and give them a huge resource advantage over government schools. At best, government schools would get no additional funding and, at worst, a massive reduction in funding.

The proposals pander to greed rather than equity. They will exacerbate inequity in education. Massive funding increases will go to higher SES students in private schools rather than those most in need, the vast majority of who are in government schools.

The funding models are based on the idea that all students are entitled to the same level of public funding and that this entitlement should not be affected by the private income or wealth of the school. Such funding approaches are often referred to as voucher schemes.

The ISV proposes a universal voucher model under which all students in both government and private schools would receive the same base government funding entitlement topped up by equal loadings for students in certain categories of disadvantage. The CIS model is similar, but has reduced base funding for higher fee schools.

Neither the ISV nor the CIS cost their proposals. There can be little wonder at their reticence because they both provide billions of dollars in additional government funding for private schools.

The author of the CIS model even concedes that student entitlement funding for private schools is “extraordinarily expensive” and “would require billions of dollars of additional public expenditure”. These billions would be far better and more efficiently spent on reducing the massive achievement gap between rich and poor in Australia.

Independent Schools Victoria model
The ISV model includes a base funding component of $8,581 for primary school students and $11,287 for secondary students (weighted average of $9,737) as of 2009. Additional funding loadings would be provided to disability, Indigenous, remote area and language background other than English students, but not to low socio-economic status (SES) students. The loadings are not specified.

The model gives a high SES private school student in Vaucluse or Toorak the same government funding as a low SES government school student in Campbelltown or Broadmeadows. The exclusion of low SES students from equity funding runs counter to hundreds of research studies and widespread government practice overseas and in Australia.

The ISV model reflects naked self-interest. It would provide a massive increase in government funding for private schools, especially Independent schools.

Government funding for Independent schools would increase by $1.8 billion over their actual funding in 2009, an increase of 55%, or $3,644 per student [Charts 1-3 below]. Catholic schools would receive an additional $1.5 billion, an increase of 26%, or $2,122 per student. In percentage terms, the increase for Independent schools is over double that for Catholic schools. Total government funding for private schools would increase by $3.3 billion.

In contrast, the model would strip funding from government schools. Funding for government schools would decrease by $2.5 billion, a decrease of 9%, or $1,098 per student. The large part of this reduction is due to the exclusion of low SES students from any additional funding. Part is also due to over-estimation of actual government school funding in 2008-09 which includes items such as payroll tax and student transport that are not included in government funding figures for private schools.

The wealthiest Independent schools will reap a funding bonanza. Some 472 Independent schools with fees over $5,000 per student will collect $2.7 billion a year in base government funding and schools with fees over $10,000 will collect $1.5 billion. Sixty-three Catholic schools with fees over $5,000 will get $0.6 billion.

Base funding for 21 elite NSW Independent schools would increase by $191 million a year, or 207%, over their actual government funding in 2009 [Chart 4]. Funding per student for Scots College would increase by 337%, SCEGGS Redlands by 313%, Ascham by 286%, Cranbrook by 269%, and Sydney Grammar by 257%. Over 80% of students at the 21 Independent schools are from the highest SES quartile and only 1% is from the lowest SES quartile.

In Victoria, 21 elite Independent schools will receive an increase of $174 million a year, an increase of 204% over their actual government funding in 2009 [Chart 5]. Funding per student for St. Catherine’s would increase by 374%, Lauriston by 308%, Korowa by 291%, Melbourne Grammar by 278%, and Scotch College by 273%. Eighty per cent of students at the 21 Independent schools are from the highest SES quartile and only 1% is from the lowest SES quartile.

The increases in other states would be less than in NSW and Victoria but government funding for the majority of elite private schools would more than double. In Queensland, government base funding for 10 elite schools would increase by $61 million, or 92%. Funding for Brisbane Boys College would increase by 144% and by 136% for St. Aidan’s Anglican Girls School.

Base funding for 11 elite South Australian schools would increase by $58 million, or 118%. The increases include a 171% increase for Walford Anglican School for Girls, 170% for Seymour College, 154% for St. Peter’s College and 153% for the Pembroke School.

In Western Australia, base funding would increase by $77 million (109%) for 14 elite private schools. Funding for MLC would increase by 174%, by 153% for Christ Church Grammar, 150% for St. Hilda’s Anglican Girls School, 148% for Scotch College and by 141% for PLC.

In the ACT, base funding would increase by $28 million (174%) for three Independent schools. Canberra Grammar would get an increase of 252% and Canberra Girls Grammar an increase of 217%.

Overall, 80 of the wealthiest private schools in Australia would collect $970 million in base funding a year under the ISV model compared to $380 million in total government funding in 2009.

These funding increases will provide a massive resource advantage for Independent schools over government schools. Total resources (from private and government sources) per student in Independent schools will be nearly double that of government schools while that of Catholic schools will be 30% higher. Total resources in Independent schools will be $19,609 per student and $13,511 in Catholic schools compared to $10,467 in government schools [Chart 6].

The total resources per student in elite NSW Independent schools will be over three times that available to government schools. For example, Ascham, Cranbrook, St. Catherines, SCEGGS Darlinghurst, SCEGGS Redlands and Sydney Grammar will have total resources of between $35,000 and $40,000 per student compared to $10,467 per student in government schools. The average resource advantage for 21 elite NSW Independent schools over government schools will be about $24,000 per student.

The total resources per student in elite Victorian Independent schools will be over three times that available to government schools. For example, Fintona, Geelong Grammar, Melbourne Girls Grammar, Melbourne Grammar, St. Catherines and Wesley College will have total resources of around $35,000 per student. The average resource advantage for 21 elite Victorian schools over government schools will be nearly $22,000 per student.

Centre for Independent Studies model
The CIS model is an illustrative example. However, its base funding component of $10,000 per student is similar to the average base component of the ISV model ($9,737) and can be treated as a practical proposal.

The maximum base funding of $10,000 per student is restricted to schools with fees of up to $5,000. Higher fee schools receive less base funding which reduces to a minimum of $3,000;
Funding loadings of $1,000 per student would apply to a broad range of student categories, including low SES students. This is lower than current average loadings, which have been substituted in the costing of the model.

The CIS model would also provide a massive increase in funding for private schools. Government funding for Catholic schools would increase by $1.6 billion (28%), or $2,317 per student. Funding for Independent schools would increase by $0.9 billion (28%), or $1,882 per student. Total government funding for private schools would increase by $2.5 billion.

Under the model, government school funding would decrease by $0.3 billion (1%), or $117 per student, over its actual funding in 2009. However, this is likely due to over-estimation of actual government school expenditure.

The model will also deliver a funding bonanza to the wealthiest schools. Independent schools with fees over $5,000 will receive a total of $1.8 billion a year in base funding while similar Catholic schools will get $0.5 billion.

The CIS says that “some independent schools clearly do not ‘need’ public funding” and that “it is difficult to justify providing extra public funds to already well-resourced students and schools”. However, it then proceeds to give them over $2 billion a year in additional government funding.

The CIS model will also provide a large resource advantage to private schools. Total resources for Independent schools will be $17,847 per student and $13,706 in Catholic schools compared to $11,448 in government schools.

Both models will exacerbate inequity in education
Both models will magnify the resource advantage of private schools, particularly the wealthiest schools, over government schools. Despite enrolling the vast majority of disadvantaged students, government schools will be denied any funding increase to meet their challenges. This can only exacerbate inequity in education outcomes.

The greatest challenge facing Australian education is to reduce the achievement gap between rich and poor, which amounts to two to three years in learning. Low SES students in predominantly low SES schools are up to four years behind their high SES peers in high SES schools.

Billions in additional government funding should be devoted to reducing this gap instead of increasing the privileges of those least in need.

The School Funding Review stated repeatedly that its focus is on improving equity in education. Given this, it has no alternative but to reject these models as the basis for the future funding of Australian schools.

Trevor Cobbold

Summary Charts on School Funding Under Voucher Models

This is a summary of a research paper published by Save Our Schools:

Voucher Models Will be a Funding Bonanza for Private Schools

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