Discussion paper

Over the last decade, fees at independent schools have risen by over 50% nationwide, 54% in major cities, and in some instances up to 80%—far outstripping both inflation and wage growth, and creating an affordability crisis for families across Australia. The lack of transparency around non-government school expenditure presently means that funds raised from school fees are often used on significant expenses that neither parents nor government are aware of. This feeds into the uncontrolled year-on-year fee increases.

The non-government school sector is not a free market. These schools are not ‘private’ in the truest sense of the word. Any entity that receives such vast quantities of public funds has a responsibility to publicly demonstrate it provides benefit to a broad subsection of society.

Key findings:

  • Independent schools are maintaining their enrolment share versus the government and Catholic systems because parents are putting themselves under increasing financial strain to pay for fees.
  • One in three parents (32%) with children at non-government schools have resorted to taking on credit card debt, redrawing the mortgage on their home, turning to extended family for help, or seeking loans elsewhere in order to close the gap between stagnating wages and escalating fees.
  • Fifteen percent of families are using credit cards in particular to pay for school fees.
  • Flush with cash, independent schools are increasingly focused on spending money raised from school fees on projects with no educational purpose, such as superfluous capital works, sporting equipment, and overseas travel.

In the interest of preserving educational choice, this Blueprint short paper proposes a transparency mechanism to ensure that non-government schools are fiscally responsible, and justify their fee increases to the public (and to parents) in order to receive continued public funding.

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