Private schools the big winners from taxpayer funding


By Leith van Onselen

The Centre for Policy Development (CPD) has produced a new report entitled Uneven Playing Field: The State of Australia’s Schools, which projects that under current policy settings, mid-range private school students are on track to receive $1,000 more in taxpayer funding than average public school students by 2020.

Below are key extracts from the report:

..two key events occurred in the later 20th century that laid the foundations of what we have today. Firstly, in the 1970s, government funding was extended substantially to non-government schools, and from the 1980s, the principles of market-based competition and consumer choice were introduced to the schools system in general. The present system is aptly described as ‘quasi-market’ as we have a mixture of government and non-government schools, each receiving a portion of federal and state funding, but each operating under different conditions and serving different populations – while assuming quite different obligations to the Australian community.

Using data from 2009 to 2015, we have been able to identify a series of concerning trends that lead us to conclude that the present state of the education system is unsustainable and beset with structural problems. By maintaining a quasi-market in our schools, we are creating an uneven playing field that benefits a portion of the community more than it does the remainder. We are drifting away from our ambition to provide high-quality, accessible education for everyone.

We’ve long known that a more equitable system of schools has a better chance of lifting achievement for all students. But our schools are becoming less equitable… Our report shows that, in the few years since Gonski reported, school equity is declining, especially in metropolitan areas and amongst our secondary schools. A child’s background is having a greater impact on their ability to succeed at school…

It is an inescapable fact that our funding arrangements exacerbate these deficiencies. Governments of all political persuasions have been at pains to ensure that any new school funding arrangements created ‘no losers’ in the government/non-government school mixture. This has simply perpetuated the schools hierarchy and an uneven playing field, ensuring a continuation of the framework of losers and winners created over decades of misapplied competition theory and skewed funding policies.

For some years total funding of private schools has exceeded the funding of government schools with similar types of enrolment. However our data analysis reveals that most Catholic schools are presently on track to receive more government funding than their equivalent public schools. The data also reveals that we are in fact over-investing in many advantaged students. They receive, depending on sector and level of advantage, between $1,300 and $14,000 extra each year in combined funding from both parents and governments, but have similar achievement levels to lower-funded students…

Meanwhile, as the graph below shows, we are seeing a convergence of public funding for all three school sectors, with public funding for non-government schools projected to outstrip that for similar government schools in the next few years based on recent trends…

ScreenHunter_13296 Jun. 02 10.21

The report calls for a freeze on funding increases to non-government schools until a review of how the funding should be more fairly distributed is conducted.

I don’t know about you, but giving substantial taxpayer funding to already well-resourced and affluent schools doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and is highly inequitable.


Full report here.

About the author
Leith van Onselen is Chief Economist at the MB Fund and MB Super. He is also a co-founder of MacroBusiness. Leith has previously worked at the Australian Treasury, Victorian Treasury and Goldman Sachs.