Australia’s school funding system keeps shifting resources towards non-government schools, and the argument that this saves public money is looking even shakier
For many years the debate about Australian schools has been influenced by the claim that public funding of non-government schools is good policy because it saves money for governments. As the Australian’s Adam Creighton claimed last year, “If the 1.24 million students now in private primary and secondary schools were shifted back to public schools, Australian governments would face an annual extra cost of $9 billion.” To stop funding private schools would amount to “fiscal suicide,” one commentator has claimed; according to another, it would create a “financial tsunami.” Government funding for private schools is “a highly efficient and effective use of government resources,” says the Independent Schools Council of Australia.
Claims like these usually refer to average recurrent costs across the entire government, Catholic and Independent school sectors. In reality, the costs of schooling vary according to location and enrolments. Students with advantaged backgrounds and circumstances are less costly to educate; those coming from less well-off households need more support.
Using data on the My School website we can make a more illuminating comparison of the sectors by matching schools that enrol similar students. In other words, we can compare like with like across government and non-government schools. My School provides a consistent set of figures across those sectors – unlike some other data sources – and its financial data, just two years old, is the most up-to-date available.
What the data reveals is that – if recent trends continue – over 40 per cent of students in Catholic schools will receive at least as much public funding as their peers in similar government schools in 2016. Two years later, it’s likely that another 40 per cent of Catholic-educated students will join them. And by the end of the decade, half the students in the other non-government school sector, Independent schools, are on track to get as much as, if not more than, government school students…