Some Catholic schools in key marginals get more government aid than public schools

Growing gap in funding for public and private schools will worsen inequality, says Australian Education Union

The gap in funding for public and private schools has increased, and some Catholic schools in marginal Victorian seats are receiving more in recurrent government funding than public schools.

That is the conclusion of an Australian Education Union analysis of new Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority data.

It found in 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, that Catholic schools in the electorate of Chisholm received $567 more per student than public schools; in Dunkley the difference was $654 and in La Trobe it was $1,322.

While the data relates to 2017, before the Turnbull government school funding changes, the Australian Education Union fears the fact that non-government schools now get 80% of the schools resourcing standard in federal funding while public schools get 20% – combined with an extra $4.6bn for non-government schools – will worsen inequality.

States are the primary funders of government schools, aiming to fund the remaining 80% of the standard.

A National Catholic Education Commission spokesman said the government “does not decide where recurrent school funding is spent” and the figures reflect that “smaller schools cost more to run on a per student basis”.

Costings, released on Friday, confirm that Labor is not going to cut non-government schools’ funding over the next four years, despite education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek labelling the $1.2bn choice and affordability fund included in the deal at the last minute a “slush fund”.

Overall, government schools got an average of $13,445 in funding per student from federal and state governments compared with $11,510 for Catholic schools and $9,601 for independent schools.

When the schools’ fee income is included, independent schools received $19,966 per student on average nationwide, 40% more than public schools, while Catholic schools received $14,764, or 4% more. On average, government schools received $14,198 per student in total.

In Chisholm, Corangamite, Dunkley, Deakin and La Trobe, government schools had a total income of up to $11,768 per student, whereas Catholic schools earned up to $13,581. Independent schools had a total income of $24,212 per student in Chisholm, $19,203 in Corangamite, $22,803 in Dunkley, $22,785 in Deakin and $17,329 in La Trobe.

Due to higher recurrent income, independent schools were able to spend $3,260 per student on capital works compared with $1,776 for Catholic schools and just $794 for public schools on average nationwide.

Schools with the highest capital spending from 2015 to 2017 included Marist Catholic College in Penshurst in New South Wales, which spent $41,485 per student in three years, Presbyterian Ladies College, Victoria, which spent $34,937 per student, and Melbourne Girls Grammar, which spent $33,180 per student.

Australian Education Union federal president Correna Haythorpe said: “When Catholic schools are getting more state and federal government funding than public schools, you know how unfair the system has become.

“These figures don’t even take into account the $4.6bn Mr Morrison handed to private schools last year,” she said. “This is Scott Morrison’s idea of a fair go.

“The only way to start levelling the playing field is to restore the federal funding that Scott Morrison has cut from public schools.

“Thankfully, Labor has made a commitment to do exactly that if it is elected to government in the federal election.”

The NCEC spokesman said the per-student amounts “do not represent how much funding the government gives each school, but how much it costs to runs each school”.

“All Australian students are funded according to need and the according to the same formula, regardless of sector.

“The only difference is that non-government schools have their needs funding reduced according to their parents’ ability to pay fees.”

Labor has tried to make education central to its election pitch, with a pledge to increase public school funding by $14bn over 10 years, $3.9bn of which will be spent in the first four years. It will also spend $300m more over four years on students with a disability.

On Friday, the Coalition released its education policy, promising “a record $21.4 billion for state schools, Catholic schools and independent schools which is a 66% increase since we came to government”.

Labor and the AEU argue that the Coalition cut projected funding growth in the 2014 budget, tearing up needs-based school funding agreements negotiated by the Gillard government, despite being elected in 2013 on the promise that schools would receive the same funding envelope.

The education minister, Dan Tehan, committed an extra $10.8m to provide a voluntary phonics health check for every year 1 student, $15m for Teach for Australia to train high achieving teachers, and $15m to create another five regional study hubs.


Paul Karp

The GuardianTramp

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