The SES Private School Funding Model Has Failed

After ten years the SES model of funding private schools has failed. It has failed to stem massive fee increases in elite private schools. It has diverted millions and millions of dollars in taxpayer funds to schools least in need while those most in need are denied adequate funding. It has meant that elite private schools have become more exclusive.

The scheme has clearly failed to stem massive fee increases in elite private schools. Fees in elite NSW schools increased by 104% between 2001 and 2011 while they increased by 88% in Victorian schools.

These increases are double or more the cost increases faced by these schools. The wage price index for private education and training increased by 44% between 2001 and 2010. Salaries account for 80% of total costs. The rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index was only 37%. It is a complete furphy that the fee increases were needed to cover rising costs.

The SES model has diverted millions and millions of taxpayer funds to the wealthiest schools and families in Australia. Funding per secondary school student increased by 118% in NSW elite private schools between 2001 and 2011 and by 211% in Victoria.

Some schools received massive increases in funding. In NSW, funding per secondary student in The King’s School increased by 256%, at Newington College by 226% and at Trinity Grammar by 300%. In Victoria, Geelong College got an increase of 389%, Haileybury College 359%, The Peninsula School 359% and PLC 270%. Geelong Grammar, the most expensive school in Australia, got an increase of 315%.

The funding increases far exceeded the increase in funding for government schools. Total federal and state funding for government schools in NSW increased by 70% between 1998-99 and 2007-08, the latest year for which figures are available. In Victoria, the increase was 63%.

The huge increases in fees and government funding beyond rising costs have allowed these elite schools to become more exclusive instead of more inclusive, which was the rationale for the scheme. It has allowed them to add to their lavish facilities, reduce class sizes and attract good teachers from other schools with high salaries.

They now have a massive resource advantage over government schools. They have two to three times the level of resources in government schools.

The wealthiest families and schools in Australia are being subsidised by $3000-$5000 per student. In contrast, additional federal funding for the most disadvantaged schools in Australia is less than $500 per student. This is six to ten times the additional funding being provided to disadvantaged schools. It is a national disgrace.

There is a huge achievement gap between rich and poor in Australia. Low SES students are two to three years in learning behind high SES students. The large majority of low SES students attend government schools. Yet these schools, and many low SES private schools, are being denied the funding they need to deliver the outcomes expected for all students.

The issue at stake is whether we are to continue to provide huge amounts of taxpayer funds to the wealthiest families and schools in Australia while the most disadvantaged students are denied the resources they need to get an adequate education.

Public funding for education should be directed to those most in need, in both private and government schools. To devote public resources to extending the advantages of a wealthy background instead of reducing education disadvantage is to enhance privilege in education. Not only is it a social injustice, but it is also a huge waste of money.

It is not a matter of whether private schools get less government funding than government schools. The issue is how best to use taxpayer funds. It makes no sense to provide millions of dollars to schools whose total resources are double or more that of government schools and low income private schools.

There is no entitlement to taxpayer funding for the wealthy. People do not pay taxes in order to get some of it returned to them. Taxes are raised for public purposes, to provide public services and to re-distribute income.

Families are not entitled to a taxpayer subsidy if they use their backyard pool rather than the municipal pool, if they use taxis instead of public transport or if they use burglar alarms instead of relying on police patrols. The argument that wealthy schools are entitled to equal government funding as government schools is really an argument to compound privilege in education.

The school funding review has to put a stop to this appalling waste of taxpayer funds and better target government funding to reduce the large achievement gap between rich and poor. It should boost funding for government schools who enrol vast majority of low income and Indigenous students.

Trevor Cobbold

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