Private school funding in Australia has increased five times faster than that for public schools, a new study shows.
The analysis, conducted by Save Our Schools, is based on the Productivity Commission’s report on government services, highlights the growing funding gap between the two school sectors.
According to the data, which compared combined commonwealth and state government funding for schools in 2009-10 to 2019-20, funding for private schools has jumped by more than $3,000 per student over the last ten years, while per student funding in public schools rose by just $703.
The analysis also found that while Commonwealth funding of public school students increased by $1,181 between 2010-2020, state government funding dropped over this period by $478 per student.
“In nominal terms, that is true, but when you take account of inflation, the funding hasn’t kept up with costs, so that means they’ve been cutting the real resources in public schools – and this has been happening for a decade right across the states,” SOS national convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said.
“At a state level it’s also been disastrous for public schools, because state governments are the primary funders of public schools and on average, across Australia, they have cut funding.”
As Australia gears up for another election, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Labor Leader Anthony Albanese are touting their parties’ credentials and announcing a raft of new funding initiatives for schools.
Pitching its pre-election school funding plan, Albanese announced a $440m grants-based initiative to help students and teachers manage the challenges of the pandemic. The package would include new grant funding for improved air ventilation in classrooms, building upgrades and more mental health services for schools.
“We need to learn from the pandemic. We need to use what the last two years have taught us to build a better future,” Albanese said.
Under Labor’s ‘Schools Upgrade Fund’, principals will be able apply for funding to improve the quality of their air ventilation systems, build more outdoor learning spaces and make repairs.
Labor has also promised funding towards a “wellbeing boost” that offers more counsellors and psychologists to address the growing mental health crisis among young people in Australia.
To highlight its investments toward education, the Federal Government recently pointed to figures from a Productivity Commission report that shows the share of public expenditure on all schools provided by the Australian Government increased from 26.3% in 2012–2013 to 31.7% in 2019–2020.
Acting Minister for Education and Youth, Stuart Robert, said this growth shows the Government is targeting its education funding right with initiatives like the Quality Schools package.
“The report shows that between 2012-13 and 2019-20, Australian Government funding per student for all schools increased significantly in real terms,” Minister Robert said.
“Government schools have been the biggest beneficiary of this growth, with Commonwealth per student funding growing by 64.1 per cent in real terms over the past 10 years compared with 49.8 per cent in non-government schools.”
The Acting Minister went on to say the government has record funding of $315.2bn for all schools between 2018 and 2029 under the Quality Schools package, and that a record $24.8bn will be invested in schools this year, including a further $26.4bn which is expected in 2023.
However, Australia’s peak teachers’ union says that if billions in record funding are flowing into the nation’s schools, it’s certainly not making a meaningful difference to the schools and other educational institutions that are struggling the most – namely public schools and TAFEs.
In its pre-budget submission, the Australian Education Union (AEU) called for an urgent investment in public school funding, which it said “is required now more than ever” to ensure students are not educationally disadvantaged as a result of COVID-19.
AEU Federal President, Correna Haythorpe described the forthcoming Federal Budget as “a critical opportunity” for the Federal Government to ensure all students have the opportunity to overcome any impacts the pandemic may have had on their learning.
“Public school principals, teachers and education support staff are still in urgent need of funding to help alleviate the challenges faced by schools and students during COVID-19,” Haythorpe said.
“The pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities in education, particularly for students with additional needs. The moment to address those inequalities is now.”