Prime Minister Morrison must answer for public school capital-funding injustice

16 August 2019

The Morrison Government must justify why it provides any funding at all for elite private schools, in light of My School data showing that the four richest elite private schools in Australia received more Commonwealth capital funding than 1800 other schools combined.

  • Nationally Catholic schools spent 2.2 times more per student on capital works than public schools in 2017, while Independent schools spent four times more per student[1].
  • In 2017, only 38 per cent of total spending on school infrastructure was in public schools — far below the sector’s 66 per cent share of enrolments[2].
  • The richest 1% of schools spent $3 billion, while 50% of schools at the other end of the scale spent $2.6 billion combined. Yet that 50% of schools actually teaches nearly five times as many students.
  • Between 2013 and 2017, Australia's four richest elite private schools spent more on new facilities and renovations than 1800 schools combined ($402 million vs $370 million).

Australian Education Union Federal President Correna Haythorpe said that the Morrison Government had abrogated its responsibility to the millions of students in public schools across the country by refusing to provide any Commonwealth funding for capital works.

“The question must be asked - why does the Morrison Government persist in funnelling millions of Commonwealth dollars into Australia’s richest elite private schools when they clearly do not need it?” Ms Haythorpe said. “He is encouraging public school funding inequity and entrenching inequality of student opportunity.”

“The My School data clearly shows that growth in recurrent and capital funding for these elite private schools far outstrips that of public schools. This is despite declining private school enrolments and a public school enrolment boom.”

“From 2009 to 2017 Catholic and Independent schools have seen their net recurrent income increase by over 66% to nearly $23 billion a year, whilst recurrent income for public school only rose by 40% over that time[3],” Ms Haythorpe said.

Ms Haythorpe said that this was exacerbated by the Morrison Government offering private schools access to a $1.9 billion capital works fund over ten years.

“Due to these high and increasing levels of public funding and recurrent income, private schools are able to shift more income to capital works. Nationally in 2017 Catholic schools spent 2.2 times more per student on capital works than public schools and Independent schools spent four times more per student,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“In 2018 and 2019 alone, 315 non-government schools received a total of $312.6 million in allocations from the Morrison Government’s private school capital works fund – an average of nearly one million dollars per grant.”

“In light of this, what possible justification could Prime Minister Scott Morrison have for continuing to refuse to provide any capital funding at all for public schools? This policy needs to change, for the sake of all students,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“The numbers do not lie. My School data provides the concrete evidence of a policy of deliberate school funding inequality by the Morrison Government and a preference to privilege the private sector above public schools,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“There is something morally and ethically wrong when the Morrison Government gives millions of dollars of capital funding to elite private schools yet chooses to wilfully ignore the capital needs of thousands of public schools.”

The lack of Commonwealth capital funding for public schools is despite the fact ABS data shows almost 200,000 additional students have enrolled in Australian schools in the past five years and 76% of the growth has been in public schools.

“Education Minister Dan Tehan is on record saying that state and territory governments should own the problem and he implies that they should use recurrent funding for public school capital works. That is an appalling position which would deny schools the much needed resources for teaching and learning programs that recurrent funding provides,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“Further, the Morrison Government has entrenched funding inequality with the Bilateral Funding Agreements struck with states which mean that public schools do not reach 100% of the Schooling Resource Standard.”

“It is absolutely unacceptable that Min. Tehan is vacating this space and making it a state problem. The Commonwealth has the largest revenue-raising capacity and must ensure that public schools are fully resourced,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“Public schools are experiencing significant enrolment growth and it is the public sector which has the greatest need for classrooms, libraries, science labs or sporting facilities.”

Ms Haythorpe said that the Commonwealth should establish a capital works fund for public schools as recommended by the Gonski Review. She said this fund should include at least $300 million per year in the first instance.

“If the Morrison Government wants to give all school students a fair go, it must immediately end capital funding inequality and provide funding to public school capital works,” Ms Haythorpe said.