School funding is based on many factors and it may surprise some people that religion is not one of them. Understanding four basic facts helps explain why.
Firstly, it costs over $13,000 a year on average to educate a child in any school – government or non-government. That would be unaffordable for most Australian families, especially if they have two or more children – so state and federal governments provide some funding to all sectors to keep schools affordable.
Secondly, all schools – government and non-government – are funded to the same benchmark, the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS). The SRS is made up of a base amount ($10,953 per primary student or $13,764 per secondary student) plus extra funding for six types of disadvantage.
Thirdly, government schools will always receive more public funding than non-government schools because taxpayers fund the entire SRS amount in all public schools. In non-government schools, the SRS is only partly funded by taxpayers because parents are expected to make up the shortfall based on their ability to pay fees. The more parents can afford, the less public funding a non-government school attracts. What could be fairer?
So a non-government school in Mosman – one of Sydney’s highest socioeconomic areas – attracts only one-fifth of the base funding provided to the local government school.
And a non-government school in Plumpton – one of Sydney’s lowest socioeconomic areas – attracts only 90% of the base funding attracted to the local government school (the maximum for a non-government school).
Fourthly, public funding for government schools has risen every year in line with enrolments and indexation. It has never been cut to pay for non-government schools.
Schools belonging to a ‘system’, such as the 549 NSW Catholic diocesan schools, are not directly funded by government. The government calculates a per-student amount for each school using the measure above, then provides a lump sum to a ‘system authority’ to distribute, primarily based on how many classes each school has and the number and type of teachers and staff required (class sizes vary; this is why schools in similar areas have different per-student funding levels).
So why support a parallel system of affordable non-government and government schools?
Firstly, all parents are taxpayers and all deserve some government support to educate their children. A vibrant, fairly funded non-government sector also ensures parents can afford a school for their children that reflects their values and beliefs – an important feature of a pluralist society.
A parallel system also provides healthy competition that improves all schools – always a good thing in any compulsory activity. The Catholic school on one side of the street is better for the presence of the public school on the other side of the street, and vice versa.
Non-government schools also ease pressure on government schools by educating one in three students, thereby sharing the load and the cost; NSW Catholic school parents, for example, contributed $1.5 billion in fees and capital works in 2016 to their children’s schools – a massive saving to taxpayers.
Recently, the Federal Government acknowledged that ‘needs-based’ funding also must account for choice and diversity in the Australian schools sectors.
The Catholic sector has always supported a strong, properly funded government schools sector. NSW has 595 Catholic schools and more than 2200 government schools. One in six public school students comes from Catholic families; our care extends to them and all students, not just those wearing our uniforms.
Dallas McInerney is the Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Schools NSW, which represents 595 Catholic schools and their 255,000 students.