Fighting for Equity in Education

The struggle is long but hope is longer

Australia’s Unfair School Funding System Must Be Overhauled

Sunday February 14, 2016

The following is a summary of an Education Policy Brief published by Save Our Schools. The Brief can be downloaded below.

Over the past 15 years, total Commonwealth and state government funding for private schools has grown at more than twice the rate of funding for public schools, and in more recent years, funding for public schools has been cut while private school funding still increased.

Between 1998-99 and 2013-14, government funding per private school student, adjusted for inflation, increased by 39% compared with only 17% for public schools. More recently, between 2009-10 and 2013-14, real funding for public schools funding per student fell by 3% while private school funding increased by 10%.

Since 2009, total government funding per student for many high fee, exclusive private schools in Victoria and NSW increased by several times more than for many highly disadvantaged schools.

In Victoria, the average funding increase per student for 16 selected elite private schools was 25% compared with 3% for 17 disadvantaged public schools [see Chart 1 below]. Six of the disadvantaged schools had their funding cut.

On average, 76% of students in the elite schools were from the highest socio-educational advantage (SEA) quartile and 1% were from the lowest SEA quartile while 61% of students in the disadvantaged schools were from the lowest SEA quartile and 3% from the top quartile. The average total income of the elite schools in 2013 was $27,085 per student compared with $13,897 per student in the disadvantaged schools.

In NSW, the average funding increase per student for 14 selected elite private schools was 23% compared with 11% for 15 disadvantaged schools [Chart 2]. One disadvantaged school had its funding cut.

On average, 80% of students in the elite schools were from the highest SEA quartile and 1% were from the lowest quartile while 62% of students in the disadvantaged schools were from the lowest SEA quartile and 3% from the top quartile. The average total income of the elite schools in 2013 was $29,639 per student compared with $15,263 per student in the disadvantaged schools.

It is apparent that Australia has an incoherent and unfair school funding system that favours advantaged students and discriminates against disadvantaged students. Funding increases over the past 15 years have been woefully misdirected. As David Gonski has said, they “were not applied on a needs based aspirational system”.

There can be little wonder that Australia has failed to improve the results of disadvantaged students or to reduce the large achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students over the past 15 years. Public schools bear the very large burden of disadvantage but received less than half the funding increase provided to private schools.

This incoherent and unfair funding system is set to continue. The Abbott and Turnbull governments have completely sabotaged the Gonski funding plan. First, public schools will lose $5.8 billion because of the Coalition’s refusal to fund the last two years of the Gonski plan. The only Commonwealth commitment is to increase funding according to CPI increases and enrolment growth. This is a recipe for funding cuts because the CPI is increasing less than education costs. Second, State/territory governments are no longer required to increase school funding as a condition of Commonwealth funding.

State and territory governments are the main source of funding for public schools, but nearly all cut public school funding in real terms between 2009 and 2013 and most refuse to commit the final two years of the Gonski plan.

Failure to overhaul this incoherent and unfair school funding system will incur major social and economic costs. The life chances of hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged students will continue to be severely curtailed. It means a future of unemployment, low income and poverty for many which contributes to social alienation and division. Poor education outcomes mean low workforce skills and participation which, in turn, results in lower productivity and an under-performing economy. Poor education outcomes also lead to poor health, more crime and greater welfare dependency all of which increase government expenditure over the long term.

This unfair school funding system must be overhauled to improve the life prospects of hundreds of thousands of students, promote economic prosperity, and strengthen the fabric of Australian society.

Trevor Cobbold

Charts on Funding Increases for Elite Private Schools & Disadvantaged Public Schools.pdf

Australia’s Unfair School Funding System Must be Overhauled.pdf

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