June 17th 2017

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The Great Barrier Reef is dying? ... Again?

CANBERRA OBSERVED McCain, Keating wade into South China Sea

EDITORIAL No heads roll despite quarantine foul-ups

EDUCATION FUNDING With Gonski reboot, Turnbull taps in to way to lose Catholic vote

INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS Aboriginal recognition in the constitution?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Low job prospects keep a generation at home

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Donald Trump has the world in a spin

EDUCATION FUNDING Gonski numbers shrink in the light of day

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE Qantas bans pensioner: an abuse of process

MUSIC Jim Black: accent on rhythm

CINEMA King Arthur: Legend of the Sword: The East End treatment

BOOK REVIEW Apocalypse and redemption

BOOK REVIEW Poems exhibit delicate strength


ELECTRICITY Bad science + bad economics = bad policy

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Gonski numbers shrink in the light of day

by Laurie Eastwood

News Weekly, June 17, 2017

A few years ago I retired after 34 years from a variety of roles with the Catholic Parents and Friends’ Federation of Western Australia (president, secretary and executive director), the Catholic Education Commission of WA and its School Resources Committee, and the Australian Parents Council (president and treasurer). During my time with these I spent many hours analysing state and federal budgets and preparing funding submissions on behalf of Catholic and other non-government school students and their parents.

Since retiring, I have waited in vain for some scribe to draw the public’s attention to the continuing inequitable public funding treatment of Catholic and other non-government school students.

Now, the post-budget silly season is here again, with several newspaper correspondents and even a former federal education minister making ridiculous, unfounded and even offensive comments in relation to these issues. In their indecent haste in rushing headlong to support the socialist recommendations of the Gillard-appointed Gonski committee, they ignore the stated principles of fairness and equity for all, which apparently only apply to those who have chosen a fully taxpayer-funded free, secular government-school education for their children.

One correspondent even suggested that all government funding for non-government schools be replaced by a full tax deduction for parents who choose that option. This ludicrous idea would provide high-income earners with a 45¢ in the $1 benefit for their expenditure, while those at the lower end of the income scale would get only a 20¢/$1 benefit, or nothing at all if their income was too low to be taxed. How inequitable is that?

As always in the education funding debate, opponents of public funding for non-government school students only ever talk about Federal Government allocations. These commenced in 1970 primarily to help redress the enormous imbalance in state-government funding for government and non-government students, but have now become a major target for and source of government-school funding as well.

State governments, not the Commonwealth, are responsible for running and funding schools, and they still provide the bulk of education funding. The 2017 Productivity Commission report states that in 2014–15 (the latest figures available), the states and territories provided $35 billion in recurrent expenditure to the 2.5 million students in government schools and only $4 billion to the 1.3 million students in non-government schools in Australia. The Commonwealth provided $5 billion and $9 billion respectively. So, in total, the 34 per cent of students who are in non-government schools got only 24 per cent ($13 billion) of the $53 billion total government recurrent funding.

This resulted in average public recurrent funding of $16,670 each per government-school student and only $9,843 each per non-government school student, a gap of $6,827 per pupil (largely funded by parental contributions and/or lower operating costs). Thus providing total annual savings to taxpayers of $9 billion in recurrent spending, in addition to the hundreds of millions of dollars in capital provided annually by non-government school communities, which supply more than 85 per cent of their own capital requirements.

With primary schools now costing around $30 to $40 million each to build and secondary schools $70 to $80 million each, despite very effective and creative designing, planning and implementation of capital expenditure, many school communities struggle under the burden of large debts, which can be repaid only via ever-increasing school fees, building levies and huge fund-raising efforts. Our seriously troubled state and national finances would be much worse off without these enormous annual savings provided by the non-government sector.

As a former great federal education minister, Sir John Carrick, once said: “The viability of the government-school sector in Australia is heavily dependent on the existence of a strong and viable non-government-school sector.”

Over the years, we have been saddled with several complex “needs-based” funding schemes which have all allocated funding to non-government school students in reverse proportion to parental contributions (the more you help yourself, the less funding you get!). For example, the Socio-Economic Status (SES) based model, and now the Gonski Schooling Resource Standard model. This, while attempting to redistribute the public (taxpayer) funding allocated to government schools on a needs basis, continues to ramp up the financial penalties imposed on (poor and wealthy) Catholic and other non-government-school parents who legitimately choose the style of education that best suits their children’s needs.

Despite being dressed up as “fair and equitable”, the so-called “needs-based” funding recommendations of the Gonski committee will merely exacerbate the growing government/non-government per-pupil public funding gap, by transferring more federal funding into government schools at the expense of Catholic and other non-government schools.

These transfers are not based on the capacity of everyone to pay, as claimed, but are allocated in reverse proportion to the amounts that many non-government school parents generally struggle to contribute by way of school fees, building levies and huge fund-raising efforts. This often involves great sacrifice or having both parents working to pay fees, while their (poor or wealthy) friends and neighbours choose to take advantage of a fully taxpayer-funded government school without any such penalty.

It is time we had a system providing, out of the taxes we all pay, a fair and adequate basic level of public funding for every child in every school (say 75 per cent of real average per-pupil government-school cost), with some additional needs-based funding to deal with specific needs.

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