“The money isn’t going where it’s needed.”


31 October 2019

Don’t pack away the green T-shirt — the fight for fair funding continues.

It was hoped May 18 would have delivered proper funding for public schools. Instead, after the results of the federal election, the fight for justice for Australia’s public schools must enter a new phase.

“Our campaign has not changed. Our goal for fair funding for public schools has not been achieved and we will keep fighting until it has,” says AEU federal president Correna Haythorpe.

Within a month of the Coalition’s federal election win, Victoria reluctantly became the last state to sign up to the federal government’s National School Reform Agreement — a joint agreement between the Commonwealth, states and territories that ties school funding to the Morrison government’s reform agenda until 2023.

The bilateral agreements between the Commonwealth and each state and territory set out their specific reform actions and funding contributions. AEU analysis of the agreements reveals that Australia will continue to experience unprecedented levels of inequality between public and private schools due to great disparities in Commonwealth funding contributions for these sectors.

Under the current funding arrangements, the Commonwealth government has legislated to fund public schools to only 20 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) while providing 80 per cent of the SRS for private schools. The SRS was a key recommendation of the independent Gonski Review and sets out the minimum fair funding level for students in schools in each sector — Public, Catholic and Independent. It is made up of a base amount for every primary and secondary student, with a loading to provide extra funding for students with higher needs.

Most private schools are funded at or above 100 per cent of their SRS, while public schools everywhere, except the ACT, will be demonstrably underfunded in 2023. In fact, 99 per cent of public schools in Australia will not reach the full SRS [see table].

That’s a projected underfunding for public schools of more than $22.7 billion by 2023.

Private schools guaranteed funds

Meanwhile, the $4.6 billion deal for private schools announced by the federal government last year will ensure that overfunded Catholic and Independent schools maintain their Commonwealth funding of 80 per cent of the SRS until at least 2029.

“We have a Coalition government that says it’s OK for public schools to be underfunded, creating a two-tier structure in education and providing far more resources to one tier of education,” Haythorpe says.

AEU analysis of My School data released before the election revealed the scale of inequality in Victoria, where many Catholic schools received more state and federal funding per student than nearby public schools, before private income such as fees was included.

In the La Trobe electorate, the gap was more than $1300 per student.

Victoria was left with little choice but to sign up to the Coalition’s inequitable funding system, but the AEU Victorian branch remains determined to pursue funding justice.

Deputy president Justin Mullaly says there is an “astounding” lack of transparency about how the funding deal between state and federal governments will deliver funding into public schools.

“Neither the federal nor state governments want principals, teachers, or parents to be able to do the numbers on the extent that public schools will be underfunded,” he says.

“It’s impossible to tell where the funding is going, except that it is clear every Catholic and independent school will reach or exceed the minimum funding benchmark and public schools won’t.”

Disparity in capital spending

Compounding this is a widening inequality in capital spending. The Coalition lavished capital funding on private schools before the election.

My School data shows in 2017 in NSW, capital works spending on independent schools was five times higher than public schools. In Victoria it was three-and-a-half times higher.

“Across Australia, the need for capital investment in public schools is evident with growing enrolments and a backlog of maintenance and new infrastructure needed. Yet the federal government is giving $1.9 billion to the private sector for capital works, but has not done the same for public schools,” Haythorpe says.

The lack of Commonwealth capital funding for public schools occurs despite the fact ABS data shows almost 200,000 additional students have enrolled in Australian schools in the past five years and
76 per cent of the growth has been in public schools.

Between 2015 and 2018 the number of students in public schools increased by 113,039 compared to an increase in Catholic school enrolments of 196 and an increase of 29,626 in Independent schools. Catholic school enrolments decreased in 2017 and 2018.

In the lead up to the election, the Morrison government announced a Local Schools Community Fund.

“While public schools might get a one-off payment worth a few thousand dollars from this fund, more than three hundred private schools have been allocated substantial capital grants worth an average of$1 million each over the past two years, which is nothing less than insulting to the sector with the greatest need.

“It’s not about the politics of envy. It’s about the politics of equity,” Haythorpe says. “The money is not going where it’s needed.”

The AEU is preparing the next steps in its fair funding fight. Watch this space.

This article originally appeared in the Australian Educator Spring 2019.