School funding increases continue to favour private schools – new data

School funding increases continue to favour private schools – new data

Australia’s school funding gap continues to widen, with new figures showing a stark disparity in government funding increases between public, Catholic, and private schools between 2009-2022.

The figures – published by the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority (ACARA) and adjusted by Save Our Schools (SOS) – show government funding for Catholic schools surged by $2,865 per student and $2,500 for Independent schools, compared to a $1,621 increase for public schools

In a School Funding Brief published on Sunday, SOS national convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said State government funding increases only slightly favoured public schools at $600 compared to $210 for Catholic schools and $138 for Independent schools. Cobbold notes that the states’ funding increase for public schools has only occurred in recent years after the states had cut funding over several years.

The increase in total income per student in Catholic and Independent schools was double that in public schools - $3,232 in Catholic schools and $2,813 in Independent schools compared to $1,438 in public schools, the Brief stated, adding that fee and other income increased slightly in private schools but fell slightly for public schools.

“As a result of these changes, Independent schools now have a massive resource advantage over public schools,” Cobbold wrote.

According to the data, Independent schools’ income per student in 2022 was over 40% higher than for public schools at $25,695 compared to $18,076, while Catholic school income was $19,681 per student – significantly higher than for public schools

“It is extraordinary, but shameful, that Australia’s school funding system so favours the privilege over the under-privileged,” Cobbold wrote. “The new figures show that the Commonwealth and state governments must fully fund public schools in the new funding agreements being negotiated at present.”

However, others say more funding for public schools is not the answer to improving student achievement in Australia’s classrooms.

Earlier this month, new research from the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) found that record levels of state and federal funding of Australia’s schools has coincided with a long-term decline in educational outcomes.

The IPA’s analysis shows that despite a 43% increase in Federal and State Governments spending on schools between 2012-2022, key OECD PISA results declined by 3% over the same period.

“Australian students are overall now more than a year behind those Australian students who took the test in 2000,” the authors wrote.

‘Back-to-basics approach, not more funding, needed to help schools’

Dr Bella d’Abrera, Director of Western Civilisation Program at the Institute of Public Affairs, says a ‘back-to-basics’ approach in Australia’s schools has “never been more urgent”.

“Today, governments at all levels are spending record amounts but results continue to decline. Without serious reform our students will continue to fail,” Dr d’Abrera said.

However, Federal Education Minister Jason Clare insists better funded schools will drive improved learning outcomes.

"I am working with my State and Territory colleagues to get all public schools to their full and fair funding level and to tie that funding to the reforms that will help children catch up, keep up and finish school," Minister Clare told The Educator.

"Currently, no public school outside of the ACT is fully funded. There’s still a 5 per cent funding gap."

Minister Clare said Federal, State and Territory Governments are currently negotiating how that funding gap will be filled.

"What the Commonwealth Government chips in, what the States chip in and what that funding is tied to," Minister Clare said. "That’s what the next National School Reform Agreement we have to strike this year is all about.”