Tasmanian Political Parties Must Step up for Public Schools

School funding in Tasmania is heavily biased against public schools. Government funding increase have favoured Catholic and Independent schools over public schools. Public schools have fewer resources than private schools and are significantly under-funded while private schools are over-funded. There is vast inequity between rich and poor in school outcomes. High proportions of disadvantaged students do not achieve expected standards and the large majority of these students attend public schools. There is an urgent need to ensure that public schools are fully funded to meet their challenges. All Tasmanian political parties must make this commitment in the election campaign.

New figures published by the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority and adjusted for inflation by Save Our Schools show that government funding (Commonwealth and Tasmania) in Catholic schools increased by over three times that for public schools between 2009 and 2022 while the increase for independent schools was over double. Government funding for Catholic schools increased by $4,622 per student and by $4,005 in Independent schools compared to $1,821 in public schools [Chart 1].

Source: ACARANational Report on Schooling data portal. The ACARA figures are adjusted for inflation here by a combined Wage and Consumer Price Index.

Commonwealth Government funding for Catholic schools increased by $4,058 per student and by $3,059 for Independent schools compared to only $947 for public schools. Tasmanian Government funding increases only slightly favoured public schools – $875 compared to $564 for Catholic schools and $496 for Independent schools.

The increase in total income per student in Catholic schools was over three times that in public schools and the increase for Independent schools was over double that for public schools – $5,456 in Catholic schools and $3,664 in Independent schools compared to $1,614 in public schools. Fee and other income increased slightly in Catholic schools but fell slightly for Independent and public schools.

As a result of these changes, Independent schools now have a large resource advantage over public schools. Their income per student in 2022 was over 30 per cent higher than for public schools – $25,169 compared to $19,680. Catholic school income at $22,220 per student is also much higher than for public schools [Chart 2].

Source: ACARANational Report on Schooling data portal.

The bias towards Catholic and Independent schools in funding increases and total income per student is incompatible with the challenges facing Tasmanian education The latest NAPLAN results show that large proportions of disadvantaged students are well below national standards in reading, writing and numeracy and need additional support. For example, the following percentages of Year 9 students need additional learning support in reading, writing and numeracy [Chart 3]:

  • 32-36% of students whose parents did not achieve a Year 12 education;
  • 23-27% of students whose parents are in the lowest occupation group (Occupational Group 4: machine operators, sales/office/service/hospitality staff, assistants, labourers, and related workers);
  • 34-37% of students whose parents are not in paid work;
  • 25-30% of Indigenous students;
  • 25-28% of students in remote areas.

By contrast, only 5-7% of students of highly educated parents and 6-8% of students whose parents are in the highest occupation group (Occupational Group 1: elected officials, senior executives/manager, management in large business organisation, government administration and defence, and qualified professionals) need additional learning support.

Source: ACARA

There are also large achievement gaps between disadvantaged and advantaged students in Tasmania. Students whose parents who only achieved a Year 11 education, those of parents in the lowest occupation group, Indigenous students and remote area students are about four to five years of learning behind students of parents with a university degree.

The large majority of low socio-economic status (SES), Indigenous and remote area students in Tasmania attend public schools. In 2022, 82% of low SES students and 78% of Indigenous and 88% of remote area students were enrolled in public schools [chart 4).

Despite enrolling the vast majority of students with the most learning challenges, Tasmanian public schools are significantly under-funded. Public schools are only funded at 89.7% of their Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) in 2024. This estimate includes an adjustment to official figures for accounting tricks in the existing funding agreements that swindle public schools of over four percentage points of their SRS. The funding shortfall in 2024 is about $125 million.

In contrast, private schools in Tasmania are over-funded at 102% of their SRS. This estimate includes the Morrison Government’s Choice and Accountability slush fund for private schools.

Source: Report on Government Services 2024

Under the current funding agreement negotiated with the Morrison Government in 2018, the Tasmanian Government can claim expenditures specifically excluded from how the SRS is measured as part of the Government’s share of the SRS of public schools. It can claim expenditure on depreciation and school transport up to 4% of the SRS and can also claim expenditure on the Office of the Tasmanian Assessment, Standards and Certification and the Teachers Registration Board. The accounting tricks account for $56 million of the total funding shortfall in 2024.

It makes no sense that the largest increases in government funding have gone to schools that selectively enrol students from advantaged backgrounds, ensuring them of even more significantly overall resource advantages. It is important to note that Catholic schools often claim to enrol students from disadvantaged backgrounds at rates similar to those of public schools, but national figures show that their enrolment profile is more similar to that of private schools.

Thus, the major increases they have received are equally not justified. Not all of this is under the control of the Tasmanian Government, but an incoming government can certainly commit to abolishing the accounting tricks that are costing public schools so much. But Tasmania needs more than this, it needs a government that stands up to the Commonwealth Government and those of the other States and Territories, by insisting on mutual commitments by governments at the different levels to full funding for Tasmanian public schools. This would provide a template for full funding of public schools nationally.

It is a critical time for public education in Tasmania. Negotiations between Commonwealth and Tasmanian Government officials are currently under way on the next funding agreement. Tasmanian political parties must commit to fully funding public schools within the life of the new funding agreement and renounce the accounting tricks that swindle public schools of funding. They must stand up for public schools to ensure that disadvantaged students complete Year 12 and to reduce the large achievement gaps between rich and poor in Tasmania.

One Reply to “Tasmanian Political Parties Must Step up for Public Schools”

  1. The estimates for public funding of private schools are always very conservative. They only ever deal with direct recurrent and capital funding of the private sector. The calculations do not include taxation exemptions (otherwise known as taxation expenditures) r services provided by the public education sector to the private schools. These latter are generally included in per capita costs for public school pupils. If the full costing were ever done it would become glaringly obvious that the denominational system has become ridiculously expensive.

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