Funding Agreements Need to do Better for Public Schools

 Today’s announcement that the Commonwealth and Western Australian Governments will each increase funding for Western Australian public schools by 2.5% of their Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) is a significant step forward. The Commonwealth is to be congratulated for breaking with the arbitrary limit on its funding of public schools set by the Turnbull Government. It is particularly pleasing that disadvantaged schools will be fully funded by 2026.

However, the new agreement has let the WA Government off the hook.  It has cut its funding share for public schools from 84.4% of their SRS in 2018 to 75% in 2024. It has also used accounting tricks to defraud public schools of another 4.4% of their SRS. The accounting tricks are retained in the new agreement and ensure the WA public schools will continue to be under-funded until at least 2029.

The accounting tricks were included in the previous funding agreement struck with the Morrison Government and allow the WA and several other states to claim non-school expenditures as part of their SRS funding share. It allowed the WA Government to claim up to 4% of its SRS share expenditures on school transport, capital depreciation and pre-schools. It could also claim expenditure on the School Curriculum and Standards Authority and other regulatory functions as part of its SRS funding share. These expenditures are specifically excluded from how the SRS is officially measured.

These accounting tricks mean that the current funding share of the WA Government is only 70.6%. The new agreement will only get its funding share to 73.1% over the next five years, substantially less than it was in 2018. In Opposition, Federal Labor promised to end these accounting tricks. It has failed at the first step.

With the Commonwealth funding share at 22.5%, WA public schools will be funded at only 95.6% of their SRS in 2029. The cumulative under-funding over five years will be about $1.6 billion.

This is not good enough, especially while WA private schools will remain over-funded to at least 2029.

This agreement is not a benchmark for agreements with the other states. They have to stop shirking their funding responsibilities for public schools. The agreements with the other states have to do way better than this for public schools.

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