school funding

In Australia, school funding is extremely inequitable. Some of the problems are:

  • Private schools, overall, are much more generously resourced than public schools. According to this Guardian article from Feb 2021, public schools get $16,399 of public funding per student excluding capital costs, while non-government schools get $11,813 per student. Keep in mind, though, that private schools charge hefty tuition fees as well, and even the government funding is increasing more rapidly for private schools than public (by 3.3% p.a. compared to 1.4%).

  • There are two types of funding: capital funding (for new buildings, facilities, etc.) and recurrent (for ongoing costs). Public schools are forbidden to use recurrent funding for capital costs, so if they can’t persuade the government to fund whatever improvements they want to make, their only recourse is fundraising (which is clearly going to be more successful in some areas than others). Private schools are free to allocate their funding as they like. This ABC article compares and contrasts public schools in low-income areas, which have to strictly ration how many hole-ridden carpets they can replace per year, with elite private schools like Caulfield Grammar, Haileybury and Wesley College that can afford to spend $100 million building new performing arts and sports facilities.

    Now defenders of those schools would argue that those funds didn’t come from the government but their own private sources, and yet you’d think if they have those resources how could they possibly argue they need any public funding? And it’s also the case that private schools are receiving generous capital grants too (generous compared to what public schools get, anyway), like $3–6 million dollars for performing arts facilities. Meanwhile I’ve done CRT work at a public school that had the walls of two classrooms eaten by termites. They did get funding to build a new school building, sure… but only after the termites had made those rooms unusable.

  • The government calculates how much money each Catholic systemic school would receive if funding was calculated under the government’s own criteria, then passes the sum as a lump payment to the Catholic systemic school authority, which allocates it according to its own criteria. That authority’s criteria is to fund schools to be “competitive” in their local area, meaning that schools in wealthy suburban areas get showered with funding to compete with local independent schools, while schools in rural areas get given a paltry amount because they’re only competiting with similarly under-resourced public schools. (see relevant article on this in NSW)

  • The Gonski reforms were supposed to make school funding more equitable, but because they involved taking government funding away from over-funded1 private schools in order to redirect it to the mostly-public schools in need, they were never properly implemented.

I know at my own public high school, the heating system was broken the entire time I was going there. The classrooms next door to, and upstairs of, the boiler room would always be boiling hot in the winter, while every other classroom would barely be any warmer than outside.

But another issue is that in Victoria, while the state government calculates how much a public school is entitled to, that school has a lot of latitude to spend it how they like. This means that some schools will make wiser decisions than others, with my old high school’s refusal to ever fix the heating (instead they were obsessed with causes like bulldozing the perfectly good old school hall to build a swanky new one) undoubtedly on the “unwise” end of the spectrum.

  1. From the Sydney Morning Herald article linked in this same paragraph: …the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) sets a base amount for each student, with loadings for different types of disadvantage, such as disability or Indigenous heritage. When the child attends a private school, the base amount is reduced according to their parents’ capacity to pay. When a school is described as over-funded, it is receiving more than 100 per cent of its SRS as determined by that formula. ↩︎