ESI BLOG

Myths and lies about school funding
2nd August 2010

In a comment piece on the Punch website (see below) I argue that Catholic and independent schools deserve government funding.


There’s nothing new in the Australian Education Union’s campaign against the Liberal Party and its attack on Tony Abbott.  During the Howard government years (1996-2007) the AEU donated millions of dollars and ran marginal seats campaigns at every election to destroy the conservatives and to get the ALP elected.


The AEU is affiliated with the Australian Council of Trade Unions and at the 1995 national teacher unions’ conference, the then federal Minister for Employment, Education and Training, Simon Crean, was quoted as saying: “In 1993 the support of the unions was crucial to the ALP’s return to Government”.


There’s also nothing new about the union’s argument that Catholic and independent schools do not deserve funding and that only state school students deserve taxpayer support.


Based on the union’s arguments the public could be forgiven for thinking that non-government schools are awash with funds as a result of government largesse, especially during the Howard years, and that state schools, by comparison, are starved of funding.


Not true, based on Productivity Commission figures, over the years 2003-04 to 2007-08 while government funding to state schools increased by 1.6% a year in real terms, the figure for non-government schools was only 0.65%.


When arguing that the current socioeconomic status (SES) model of funding is inequitable and unfair critics, like the AEU, always forget to include the contribution states make to school funding. Given that states provide the lion’s share of funding to schools (approximately 78%), ignoring their contribution and only focusing on the Commonwealth expenditure is misleading and false.


If state and Commonwealth funding are combined then it is clear that state school students, compared to those in non-government schools, receive substantially more support.


The reality, as noted in the 2010 Report on Government Services, is that total government funding per state school student is $12,639, while non-government schools only receive $6,606 per student. Every student that attends a non-government school saves government, and taxpayers, approximately $6,000.


It’s also the case that the current socioeconomic status (SES) model of funding is needs based.  Wealthier non-government schools only receive 13.7% of the recurrent cost of educating a student in a government school, with needier non-government schools receiving up to 70% of the figure.


These figures refer to recurrent funding, when capital funding is included the imbalance is even greater.  In relation to independent schools close to 90% of capital funding is provided by parents and school communities, with state and Commonwealth governments providing 10%.


The other fact that the AEU rarely mentions is that government funding to Catholic and independent schools is an increasingly sensitive and volatile political issue as more and more parents, especially amongst aspirational voters in marginal seats, are voting with their feet and choosing non-government schools.


Between the years 1998-2008 the number of students attending Catholic and independent schools grew by 21.9% while the figure for state school students was only 1.1%.  Based on 2008 figures, approximately 30% of primary school students attend non-government schools, the figure rises to 40% for secondary school students.


Some commentators describe the election campaign as bland and uninspiring as both major parties stake the centre ground and play it safe on policy issues.  As noted by the AEU, school funding is one issue where there are important differences and a choice to be made.


On one hand the Shadow Minister for Education, Chris Pyne, has endorsed the right of non-government schools to be properly funded and guaranteed, if elected, that a Coalition Government would implement a funding approach very much like the existing SES model.


On the other hand the ALP Minister for Education, Simon Crean, while suggesting that non-government schools will not lose money as a result of the current review, refuses to guarantee that funding will not be frozen and that funding to non-government schools will keep pace with government school costs.


Just compare what the current Minister says with what Julia Gillard promised in 2008 when she was the Minister for Education, “the Rudd Government has given a set of guarantees to the non-government schools… Those guarantees are that we would maintain the SES model, we would maintain the status of funding maintained and funding guaranteed.  We’d maintain the way in which the Catholic system is funded and we would maintain indexation arrangements”.


The fact that the funding review, announced when Julia Gillard was Minister for Education, will not hand down its recommendations until 2011, well after the forthcoming election should also be cause for concern.


Angelo Gavrielatos was recently quoted as saying, “We need both sides of politics committed to supporting our public schools and spending more on them, not less”.  Ignored is that education is a fundamental human right, that parents must be free to choose a school that best serves their values and beliefs and that students should not be financially penalised just because they attend a non-government school.
 

 

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2nd August 2010

In a comment piece on the Punch website (see below) I argue that Catholic and independent schools deserve government funding.There’s nothing new in the Australian Education Union’s campaign against ...
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