February 17, 2011

The Sydney Fairfax Press is finally giving some oxygen to the financial analysts who question  private religious school statistics.

Nobody is yet prepared, as DOGS have done over the years, to point out that there has not only been a refusal by governments and the private sector to recognise key areas of public expenditures from the beginning of State Aid in 1964. At no point has there been proper financial analysis of :

1.      The incremental costs incurred by public school administrators burdened with the uneconomic sectors of education. Schools in remote areas, those with special language needs, indigenous students and those with learning or physical disabilities receive additional funding. Schools with a high number of refugees attract extra funding for intensive language centres. The federal government is also providing additional funding to public schools serving disadvantaged communities. The most costly government schools are often small schools in remote areas. The global budget of public school administrations also includes institutions such as libraries and services available to the private sectarian sector.

2.      The user cost of capital, payroll tax and subsidies for student transport costs. As a result, government expenditure on government schools is over-estimated in comparison with expenditure on private schools in official reports.

3.      The taxation expenditures involved in taxation exemptions for council rates, land tax, stamp duty,  income tax, fringe benefits tax, GST, capital gains tax…name the tax, and there are public expenditures.

4.      There has also been an outrageous lack of accountability and transparency for the billions of dollars of public money channelled into church coffers over the last fifty years. There is limited corroboration of enrolment data provided  by the sectarian sector and even less enforcement of  accountability.

It is one thing for the opposing parties to trade statistics.

But now official figures themselves are at variance.

As Trevor Cobbold from Save our Schools points out, recent estimates of government expenditure on private schools published by the Productivity Commission in its Report on Government Services (RGS) are inconsistent with other official figures, in particular, the  National Report on Schooling (NRS) published by the national education ministers’ council. The inconsistencies need explanation as they are creating confusion in public debate about trends in school funding.

The Productivity Commission’s figures show a much lower increase in government funding for private schools than for government schools in recent years while other official figures show that government funding for private schools has increased by much more than for government schools.

The Productivity Commission states that total Commonwealth and state/territory government expenditure on private schools fell in real terms (that is, adjusted for inflation) by $462 per student between 2004-05 and 2008-09 while government expenditure on government schools increased by $623 per student. In current dollar terms, they claim that  expenditure on government schools increased by $2,829 per student (or 26%) while expenditure on private schools increased by only $796 per student (13%).

This increase for private schools is much less than the annual indexation provided to private schools under the SES funding model. It is also much less than the increase shown in the National Report on Schooling (NRS) published by the national education ministers’ council.

The productivity Commission does not take into account the incremental costs in the government sector, let alone the user cost of capital, subsidies and taxation exemptions allowed to the private sectarian sector.

Meanwhile, the sectarian sector, particularly spokesmen representing the independent sector are using the Productivity Commission figures and peddling the ideology of ‘choice’ and other thinly veiled arguments for insecure, aspirational and competitive parents. ( See Geoff Newcombe  quoted by Anna Patty in the Sydney Morning Herald of February 14, 2011.)

As the lid opens on the gross inequities in Australian Education created by the funding of sectarian education over the last fifty years, the Catholic Hierarchy are strangely silent. Are they embarrassed when they turn to the Genesis story of the Creation in which God created man – and woman – in his own image and therefore equal? Or are they merely following the usual tactic of lobbying in the corridors of power.


The total amounts of taxpayer funding of the sectarian education sector have been based on misinformation and inadequate statistics since 1964. The ordinary citizen could see that this sector, even in 1964, favoured the wealthy and selected children for the first class ticket to heaven and the good job. Fifty years later it is a national scandal with the vast majority of children in public schools suffering discrimination at every turn.

Cobbold and others should be congratulated for exposing the statistical problem. But DOGS believe that the problem is much wider, deeper and possibly insoluble. However well intentioned the promoters of the a “Needs” based  funding scheme might be, they are faced with an unholy Catholic/Protestant alliance which believes that the poor are only worthy of the crumbs from the rich man’s table. Sinners like homosexuals, divorcees and single parents need not apply.

The only way to solve the State Aid problem is to end it.



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