Elite schools get millions while public schools get nothing


1 May 2019

The Morrison Government has been caught out diverting millions in capital funding to wealthy private schools for dance studios, fitness areas and cafes while giving nothing to public schools to cope with rising enrolments.

An AEU investigation has found that money from a capital fund designed to benefit schools that can’t raise their own funds, has been shifted into elite schools.

Many of the grants were made by the Morrison and Turnbull Governments after capital funding for public schools was stopped in 2017.

AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe said the revelations showed just how unfair federal funding for schools has become.

“Public schools should be the first priority for all governments,” she said.

“They are the schools open in every community, where two thirds of students go and where enrolments are growing fastest.

“Scott Morrison can find millions for art and drama studios in elite private schools but he can’t find the money to build new public schools or helping existing ones expand to cope with significant increases in enrolments.”

Details of the funding for wealthy private schools was originally obtained by the AEU under Freedom of Information laws and has now been published online.

According to the Federal Department of Education, the capital grants program is to help private schools “if they do not have enough capital resources”.

But the school by school grants include:

  • $3.6 million for St Scholastica’s College in Sydney to pay for art, music and drama facilities as well as change rooms and a fitness area. This elite Catholic school has 56% of students from the top socio-educational quartile and received over $19 million in net recurrent income in 2017.
  • $500,000 for St George Christian School in Sydney for a multipurpose sports court, visual arts rooms and general learning areas. This elite school where 63% of students are from the top socio-educational quartile and 1% from the bottom quartile spent almost $10 million on capital works between 2015 and 2017 and is spending $14 million expanding its facilities.
  • $600,000 for St Columba Anglican School in Port Macquarie to pay for a sustainability centre with outdoor amphitheatre seating. The school also got $950,000 in 2016 for a performing arts centre for music, dance and drama studios, a 320 seat theatre and 12 practice studios. The school has only five per cent of students from the bottom socio-educational quartile.
  • $3.5 million for Marist Catholic College Penshurst for general and specialist facilities including a hall for fitness. The school also got $5.9 million in 2015 to pay for redevelopments including music performance spaces, a café, kitchen and theatrette. Total capital works spending 2015-2017 was $31 million.
  • $6 million for William Clarke College in Sydney to help pay for a STEAM building with kitchens, media and sound studios, art, science and woodwork facilities. This school generated $26 million in recurrent funding in 2017 and the STEAM building is reported as a $15 to $20 million project. Two per cent of students at the school are from the bottom socio-educational quartile.
  • $750,000 for Lycee Condoret the International French School of Sydney to pay for a sports hall, rooftop play area and general learning spaces. This school has 62% of students from the top socio-educational quartile and 3% from the bottom quartile. This school received over $13 million in income in 2017.
  • $525,000 for Launceston Church Grammar to pay for a student café and road works.

The capital funding program for private schools was increased by $300 million by the then Treasurer Scott Morrison and former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2017.

At the same time the two decided to put an end to capital funding for public schools which was delivered along with recurrent funding in a single grant to states and territory governments.

Instead, the decision was made to direct all federal funding for public schools to a recurrent target of 20% of the Schooling Resource Standard by 2023.

Private schools will be funded to 80 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard by 2023 and have access to $1.9 billion in capital funding.

The NSW Government protested against this inequity in its submission to the Gonski 2.0 inquiry stating: “Current Commonwealth funding arrangements provide recurrent funding to government and non-government schools against the Schooling Resource Standard as well as capital funding to non-government schools. NSW has significantly increased its capital commitment to all schools and the Commonwealth should also consider contributing to meet the future needs of communities for schools.”

My School data shows that overall capital expenditure in Independent schools was more than four times greater per student than in public schools in 2017. Catholic schools were spending more than twice as much per student.

The lack of Commonwealth capital funding for public schools is despite the fact ABS data shows almost 200,000 additional students have enrolled in Australian schools in the past five years and 76% 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.