School Funding

Funding at the school gate

The absurd nature of school funding is on full display with the release of new data into the MySchool portal. The most recent data for our school available on the site shows that in 2012 we received recurrent funding of $12,495 per student. In reality we received a core fund in rate of $7,153 per student and by the time all the other government funding sources (students with disabilities, cleaning, utilities etc) were rolled in we received a total of $7,959 per student. We service a diverse community and our capacity to generate locally raised funds is negligible; we collect less than $70,000 in voluntary student contributions.

There is a big difference between $12,495 and $7,959. Our funding is being overstated by over 60%. This is explained by the methodology used to calculate funding for government schools which takes into account the cost of running the education department. Public scrutiny of school funding generally focuses on the MySchool figure, and indeed this figure (or a variation of it as calculated by the AGSRC – Average Government School Recurrent Costs) was historically used to calculate the funding entitlement for non government schools. Most common comparisons of school funding through the media fail to take into account the fact that government schools don’t receive anywhere near the publicly stated amount. Non government schools can speak for themselves but I would imagine their funding makes its way directly to them and therefore the publicly available data will be closer to the mark. By setting an inflated base figure for public school funding from which to calculate non government school funding we finish up with significant imbalances in funding.

What matters to schools and students is the amount of money that arrives in our budgets and which we have the capacity to spend on teachers, operating costs and student programs. Analysis of school funding should focus on this amount, not what it costs to run an education department. Part of the significant discrepancy between staffing levels in public and non government schools is accounted for by the contribution of parents. Part of it is accounted for by the lack of funding in our schools and the fact that this can be glossed over by the way funding is represented. This can be convenient for a range of people, including politicians who argue against funding reform and those who don’t have the courage to tackle it.

A recent report in The Age from Henrietta Cook highlighted the funding issue in Victoria, where each government school student receives around $2000 less than the national average per student and funding has actually been declining over the last few years. It’s a disgrace and highlights the need for genuine reform of school funding. When this occurs, as it inevitably will, we need to focus on the needs of students irrespective of which school they sit in and we need to count the funding that arrives at the school gate. In the meantime the media could do the public a service by pointing out that public schools receive far less funding than is generally claimed, and that in many cases non government schools – particularly in the Catholic sector – are likely to be in receipt of more government funding (state and federal combined) than the neighbouring public school. And the MySchool methodology should be changed to more accurately represent the funding schools really receive. It’s the funding at the school gate that matters.


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