01 June 2016
by Timna Jacks

Private school students to receive $1000 more in government funds than public students by 2020

Throwing money at the problem won't fix the widening class divide in Australia's schools, says a new report.

Australia's education funding model is so dysfunctional that simply pumping billions of extra dollars into the system will not reverse the widening class divide between our schools, a new report has found.

Mid-range private school students are on track to receive approximately $1000 more federal and state government funding than comparable average government school students by 2020, based on nationwide funding trends from 2009 to 2014, according to a provocative new report by Centre for Policy Development.

The first two years of the Gonski funding started to flow in some states from 2014.

The findings have been described as "diabolical" by analysts from the centre, a think tank focused on social justice and the environment.

The system is so damaged, that committing to the final two years of the Gonski agreement may not even be sufficient to resolve the sustained equity problems in our schools, said lead author Chris Bonnor, an outspoken public school advocate.

"We're sleepwalking into a disaster," he said. "To continue the way we are going now, just with more money, won't solve the problems."

With school funding emerging as a flashpoint in the federal election, the report Uneven playing field: The state of Australia's schools, is bound to raise hackles as the parties debate the best ways to make Australia a smarter country and improve the nation's academic results.

Colette Colman, executive director of Independent Schools Council of Australia said the report was making funding projections "based on flawed assumptions", as the 2015-16 Commonwealth Budget papers showed federal funding for government schools outstripped funding to non-government schools.

The report acknowledges this, but notes that public funding to government schools increased by under three per cent every year between 2009 to 2014, compared to a six per cent increase for non-government schools.

The report calls for radical reforms - including a freeze on funding increases to non-government schools, pending a review of how the funding should be more fairly distributed.

The National Catholic Education Commission's executive director, Ross Fox, said the report's proposal to halt funding to Catholic schools "would likely drive up school fees and increase taxes".

Australian Education Union federal president Correna Haythorp said the report was evidence that schools were in need of the full six years of Gonski funding.

The Coalition has committed $1.2 billion extra for schools over three years while Labor had said it would fund the final two years of the Gonski agreements, worth $4.5 billion.

Mr Bonnor said Labor's Gonski pledge falls short of promising a new separate funding body, which would safeguard school funding against the whims of politicians by setting standards for funding.

"Governments don't want to give up the three-to-four year electoral cycle of making funding announcements and handing out gifts to different sectors."

As you can see in the graph below, the funding for Catholic and independent schools is set to outstrip government schools by about $1000 in the next four years.

Australian student performance is increasingly influenced by their socio-economic status, the report finds, meaning the gap between poorer and wealthy students is growing.

The graph below also shows that the class divide in Australia is wider than the OECD average, in addition to countries such as Canada and Hong Kong.

Disadvantaged schools are being starved of wealthy and high-performing students, who are flocking to wealthier government and non-government schools.

Wealthy schools are taking on more affluent students and shutting out poorer and low-achieving students through entrance exams and high fees, according to the report.

Two-thirds of the country's wealthiest students, 66 per cent, had enrolled in the richest schools in 2010, rising to 70 per cent in 2015. A quarter of the student population in the nation's poorest schools came from the wealthiest families in 2010, but five years later, only one fifth of the most advantaged students remained in the poorest schools.