Treasury Dishonesty on School Costs Exposed

Save Our Schools Canberra today accused the ACT Treasury and the Stanhope Government of blatant dishonesty in its Budget statement on school costs.

SOS spokesperson, Dr. Ian Morgan, said that the Government and the Treasury have effectively overstated the difference in average costs between larger and small primary schools by over $7,500 per student.

“They have used the standards of a second-rate used car salesman in cheap deception of the public to bolster their case for closing small schools.

“The Treasury has falsely implied that small schools cost about $11,000 more per student than larger schools. The actual difference is $3,468 per student. In other words, the Treasury has effectively overstated the difference by over 3 times. This is a massive overstatement in anybody’s language.

“The Treasury has been dishonest in two ways. Firstly it has engaged in creative rounding off, that would be illegal at a supermarket check-out, to overstate the average costs of small schools and understate the costs of larger schools. Secondly, it has used extreme examples to make implications about small school costs.”

Dr. Morgan said that Treasury’s dishonesty is exposed by comparing its statements on school costs published in the Economic and Financial Outlook for the ACT, titled For the Future, with the figures published on the Towards 2020 website of the Department of Education.

He cited the following Treasury statement on school costs:

…the costs per student in these low-enrolment schools are much higher than they are in larger schools. For example, costs per student in government primary schools with enrolments of fewer than 200 range as high as $19,000. In schools with enrolments of between 400 and 600, costs per student are about $8,000. [For the Future, p.10]

“The Treasury has failed the elementary test of comparing like with like. It has compared an (understated) average cost for larger schools with the highest cost examples of small schools and not the average cost of all small schools. This false comparison has been repeated ad nauseam by the Minister for Education.

“Obviously, the intent is to deceive the public. The Treasury statement is designed to give the impression that the costs of small schools are around $11,000 per student higher than in the larger schools. However, this is far from the actual truth.

“First, there are only two schools below 200 students with a cost of about $19,000 per student. One of these is Tharwa, which is a very small school serving the rural population south of Canberra. The other is Rivett, which is the site of a major special education unit whose costs have been included in the school’s cost figures.

“The average cost of all schools in the ACT (excluding Jervis Bay) with enrolments below 200 is $12,148 per student, or $6,852 per student less than the figure cited by the Treasury.

“On the other hand, the Department of Education’s figures show that the overall average cost of all the larger schools with enrolments between 400 and 600 is $8,680 per student, or 8.5 per cent higher than the Treasury’s rounded down figure of around $8,000. Only one of the schools with 400 – 600 students has an average cost below $8,000 per student – in this case $7,998.

“Overall, the difference between the average per student costs of larger schools of 400 – 600 students and smaller schools below 200 is $3,468 and not $11,000 as stated by the Government. The Government and the ACT Treasury have effectively overstated the difference by 300 per cent.”

Dr. Morgan said that the dishonest presentation of small school costs seriously undermines the credibility of the ACT Government and the Treasury on the proposal to close 39 Canberra schools.

“The Government is obviously prepared to do anything to justify its program of school closures. We can only speculate as to what other Government-supplied information on school closures has also been “dressed up” in a similar fashion to justify shutting nearly 25 per cent of Canberra’s schools. Indeed, not a week has gone by since the program was released without some figures being exposed as incorrect.

“When similar issues about creative rounding up and down of government figures were raised at the Estimates Hearing by Brendan Smyth, the Minister for Education could only bluster and deride, saying: ‘That is a devastating political point, Mr. Smyth. You win the award for pedant of the year.’

“This is hardly a matter of pedantry. It goes to the heart of the honesty of the Minister, the Stanhope Government and Treasury in developing and rolling out the school closure policy. The Minister and the Stanhope Government have clearly adopted the policy without adequate consideration of the figures, and have been complicit with Treasury in a dishonest presentation of the data to support their case. No wonder they want to keep the Costello Report secret.

“It is scandalous that Treasury, the body responsible for the integrity of government finances, has resorted to such base tactics. How can the people of Canberra have any confidence in a Minister, a Government and a Treasury when they engage in such blatant deception?”

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