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Dallas McInerney addresses some School Funding Fallacies

Posted on 1 October 2018
Dallas McInerney addresses some School Funding Fallacies

It is unfortunate that many involved in the "Great Funding Debate" see it as a Zero Sum Game with only the particular sector they support emerging triumphant with the spoils of Government Funding - at the expense of the other sectors.  CaSPA has long held the view that adequate, means based school funding be provided to all 3 sectors, and the less time spent on how to "divide the pie", and the more time spent on promoting quality teaching and learnng the better we would all be.

The following article by Dallas McInerney [above] - the Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Schools NSW - goes some way towards clarifying basics of funding, and will hopefully assist a broad understanding of how all 3 sectors are being fairly treated - on the whole -  with the latest funding proposal by the Government.

Another lesson has been how public school advocates rely on the fallacy that government schools are full of children from poor families while any school that charges fees must be educating 'the rich' and should therefore receive no public funding.

Of course, government and low-fee Catholic schools in the same suburbs and regional areas serve families from similar socioeconomic communities. Both have quality schools with dedicated teachers doing their best to create Australia's next generation of citizens.

I've also learnt how very few people seem to understand the average cost of a school education in Australia is more than $13,000 per student per year. This is something many of these advocates need to recognise before expressing their disgust at last week's news that low-fee non-government schools will receive a modest increase in funding (about $600 per Catholic school student per year) under a new funding formula that more accurately estimates need. High-fee schools educating students from high-income families are set to lose government funding.

Government and non-government schools all receive some public funding because most families could not afford to pay more than $13,000 a year to educate each of their children from kindergarten to year 10 or 12.

Government schools are fully funded by taxpayers. It doesn't matter if their students are from rich or poor families whether you live in Mosman or Mt Druitt, if you send your child to a government school, the total cost is funded by taxpayers. You don't have to pay a cent. That's not the case with non-government schools.

All non-government schools (except some highly disadvantaged schools) must rely on fees because they only receive a portion of their funding from government, based on a means-test of the school's parents. Non-government schools educating children from wealthier areas attract less government funding than those from lower-income areas.

For some time, however, the Catholic education sector was concerned that assessing parents' capacity to pay fees using geography was flawed because it was based on an average socioeconomic (SES) score for all families in a particular area. Those families below the average tended to send their children to low-fee non-government schools while those above the average often educated their children in high-fee schools. Yet both schools would attract the same government funding.

This concern was shared by the Grattan Institute, the Centre for Independent Studies and the original 2011 Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling, which at Recommendation 20 called for a new methodology that more accurately measured parents' income at each school to better target government funding.

A review of the SES-based methodology was finalised this year by the National School Resourcing Board and it vindicated what the Catholic sector had been telling governments for years that the methodology delivered too much funding to high-fee schools while low-fee schools (including the vast majority of Catholic schools) were being short-changed. This was the reason for the new funding arrangements announced on 20 September by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Education Minister Dan Tehan.

Predictably, the media focused on the increased funding rather than the reason for the increase. It's so much easier to describe it as 'a special deal for the Catholic sector' despite the fact that all low-fee schools will benefit including Lutheran, Anglican, Seventh Day Adventist and Muslim schools. Our sector just happens to have the most non-government schools.

From 2020, there will be a new, more accurate formula to measure parents' ability to pay fees based on personal income tax data, rather than the neighbourhood you live in. As a result, schools serving students from high income families are going to lose government funding and those serving low and middle income families will receive a top-up. The reason for the overall increase in funding? There are hundreds more low-fee schools than high-fee schools.

Predictably, there were howls of outrage that this funding announcement contained nothing extra for government schools. That's because parents who send their children to government schools do not have their incomes means tested for funding purposes. All government schools will continue to be fully funded by taxpayers, irrespective of family wealth or advantage.

Some people charged into the media demanding 'equal treatment for all schools, public and private'. Do those people realise they are calling for government schools to be means-tested? Because that's what equal treatment would look like.

Those people should also be aware that government schools are better off than non-government schools because the former can raise private income without losing a dollar in government funding.

In NSW, some 2200 government schools raised $450 million in private income in 2016. Fifty of those schools raised almost $100 million between them, which they do not have to share with any other school (unlike Catholic systemic schools, who pool and redistribute their fees according to need).

The Catholic sector supports a strong, properly funded government school sector. It is the foundation of Australia's education system, educating two thirds of students including some 40 per cent of children from Catholic families.

Some argue that governments have no place funding non-government activities such as 'private' schools. Those people should be reminded that governments already fund private GPs and specialists (through Medicare), pharmacies (the PBS), aged care, child care and transport services.

Another perennial argument is that non-government schools deprive government schools of funding. Public funding for government schools has increased every year at least in line with enrolments and indexation (sometimes more) since government funding was extended to all school sectors. Some are now claiming that Australia is the third lowest spender on public schools in the OECD, when in fact we spend more than the OECD and EU averages. 

Catholic parents are also taxpayers. It is only fair that their taxes contribute to the education of their own children as well as those in government schools. These parents already pay $3 billion a year from their after-tax income to educate their children in a Catholic school and fund 90 per cent of our capital works. This represents a massive saving to the taxpayer.

If governments stopped supporting low-fee non-government schools, fees would rise to cover the gap. This would force many parents to move their children to the free government school in the same suburb many of which are already at capacity and the non-government school would become unviable and close. Families would be denied their school of choice, and the bill for taxpayers would be greater.

That would not be a good outcome for the community and is the reason both sides of politics support non-government schools in Australia.

From: Eureka Street -  25 September 2018

Tags: Government Funding

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