End the Corruption of Private School Funding

Governments should end special funding deals for private schools according to a submission to the national education minister’s council by Save Our Schools. SOS convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said that special deals have corrupted private school funding and provide more than $3 billion a year in over-funding.

“The Federal Minister for Education, Simon Birmingham, says that he wants to fix the “corruption’’ at the heart of the current funding model. He should start on the various special deals that provide billions of dollars in funding to private schools that they would not be entitled to under a truly needs-based funding model.

“Much of this over-funding goes to schools that serve the wealthiest families in Australia. It would be much more effectively used to support disadvantaged schools in both the public and private sectors.

“Private school funding should be based on need. All forms of over-funding of private schools should be terminated. Over-funding of well-off private schools is a complete waste of taxpayer funds.

“There are several forms of over-funding of private schools that are the result of special deals with private school organisations by the Howard Government and the previous Labor Government.

“One is that many schools receive more funding than they are entitled to because they have been allowed to keep funding that they would have otherwise lost when the current funding model was introduced in 2014. This form of over-funding was highlighted by the Commonwealth Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, on Q&A in September.

“A second form is government funding that allows private schools to have greater resources than public schools. For example, the fees and donations of many wealthy and exclusive private schools far exceed average funding per student in public schools, yet these elite private schools receive government funding of over $1 billion a year even though they enrol none or very few disadvantaged students.

“A third form of over-funding occurs because private schools are guaranteed the same share of total government funding that they had prior to the introduction of the current funding model, irrespective of changes in the proportion of disadvantaged students.

“Another form of over-funding occurs because the measure of the socio-economic status (SES) of private schools used to determine their level of government funding systematically over-estimates disadvantage in private schools with the result that they receive more government funding than they would by using a more accurate measure. The current school SES measure is an area-based measure, not a family-based measure.

The submission recommends that over-funding in the first two categories should be phased out by the end of the next quadrennium in 2021, and that the guaranteed share of government funding for private schools should be terminated from 2018. It also proposes that from 2018 the capacity to contribute of schools and school systems should be calculated according to a family-based measure of SES, not an area-based measure.

“These reforms would fully align government funding of private schools with the Gonski principle of needs-based funding”, said Mr. Cobbold. “They would restore the integrity and coherence of the funding model.”

The submission also heavily criticises the lack of transparency on how private school systems that are block funded distribute taxpayer funding to member schools.

“School systems should be required to publish how they distribute government funding between their schools. Governments should adopt the Gonski report recommendation that school systems should disclose how they allocate taxpayer funds to member schools and make it a legislative condition of their funding from 2018.

Mr. Cobbold said that SOS would submit its proposals to all education ministers and request that they be included in their discussions about the future school funding arrangements to apply from January, 2018.

“The future of school funding in Australia is at a critical juncture. However, negotiations with state and territory governments are being conducted behind closed doors. We don’t know what is being considered and there is no opportunity for public discussion of what is being considered.

“The Federal Education Minister says that he is consulting with private school organisations and that they have been invited to comment and provide their priorities to inform the government’s considerations on the future funding arrangements. Neither he nor the private school organisations will reveal the proposals under consideration. He is not consulting public school organisations.

“This secret process is a recipe for further special deals. After all, as the former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has boasted, giving priority to funding Independent and Catholic schools is “in our DNA”.

“The secret consultations are in sharp contrast with the consultations held by the Gonski panel. It consulted widely with public and private school organisations. It took over 7,000 public submissions.”

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