Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Public vs. private school funding again

Since 1996 state school enrolments in Australia have risen 1.2% while independent and catholic school enrolments have increased 21.5%. As argued in an earlier post these trends could reflect a move to quality or a move by aspirational parents to give their kids a 'leg up'.

Our ratbag teacher unions (the lot who want vastly higher pay without any merit or performance component) offer an unhelpful input. The Australian Education Union's Victoria branch president Mary Bluett said the shift was in part a result of reduced federal funding for government schools. ‘Last year the federal funding share for Victoria was $920 per government school child and $4339 per non-government student … so I think it is influencing this trend’.

But what about total government grants to government and non-government schools? In 2003/04 governments in total (Commonwealth and State) contributed almost twice the amount to educating a student in the government schools ($10,000 on average) compared with educating a student in the non-government schools ($5,600 on average). Private households picked up the gap, paying on average $8690 for an average secondary independent school compared to amounts from households to a government secondary schools of $390 and to catholic schools of $3600.

Parents sending their children to independent schools are not drawing excessively from the public purse as Bluett suggests. Those sending their children to private and independent schools are heavily cross-subsidising the costs of children in the public system and enabling a better quality education and higher teacher salaries than would otherwise obtain.


rabee said...


What is the proportion of private schools in Melbourne (and generally in Australia) that have non-price exclusionary enrollment procedures?

Don't you agree that government funding for private schools should be given on the understanding that these schools allow automatic enrollment of any student whose parents are willing to pay the school fees?

Otherwise, the "aspirational parents" narrative seems to be less convincing.

conrad said...

What about ratbag parents who don't care about their children's education ? They are surely the first point of call. The fact that Australia has problems with the school system is no-doubt thanks in large part to Australian culture. You can see via a comparison with all the schools with high proportions of East Asians. Same schools, same curriculum, same teachers, better results.

Also, I don't see how private schools are a cross subsidy to public schools. It is simply less of a subsidy born by those that don't use the system.

Anonymous said...

Harry, yes Mary has once again cited very selective funding (and mischieviously wrong) statistics to deflect ongoing criticism of state education. The punters are voting with their feet and Mary won't accept that we need to make our teachers accountable as one strategy to re-enthuse them to rise above mediocrity and to differentiate their pay for effort - well thats not going to go down in the staffroom will it?

Anonymous said...

the obvious reason why more parents are looking at private is the amount of money that this gov is pumping into the private schools compared to public

Beau Brummell said...

Nice switcheroo there Harry. The public dollar is increasingly subsidising private schools and creating a growth industry in the sector.

Private schooling is a choice; hence there is no cross-subsiding by parents who take this choice.

Public education is, and will remain, a government responsibility. Yet our disgraceful Prime Minister has deliberately denigrated public education for his own divisive ends.

Fred Argy said...

Harry I have no problems with governments subsidising non-government schools in principle but I am concerned at some aspects.

First, many of the new non-government schools are ethnic or religion-based (which is not very helpful to social cohesion).

Secondly the socio-economic formula used for allocating grants is clearly defective.

Thirdly, as the Productivity Commission has shown, the total government (federal and state) subsidy per student is growing at a faster rate for non-government than for government schools. As well, parents are stepping up their investment in private schooling. The result is a widening gap between the total education resources (public and private) deployed on rich children relative to poor children.

There is also a physical deterioration occurring in public schools and this does make a difference to the perception the public has about the value placed on schooling.

The OECD ranks us among the best on average quality/standards of education but below average on equity (equalities of education opportunity).

I want to see much more public investment in public schools (closely targeted at the disadvantaged) and a review of the schools funding formula. I would also like to see non-government schools take more low-income kids on scholarships or the like (there is too much class segregation now).

hc said...

Quite a few good comments. I couldn't respond during the day as Blogger refused to allow me to post!

Most private schools Rabee now have waiting lists for entry and are non-selective. The co-ed schools seem to me to give preference to females (evidence shows they are better off in female schools) and to bright kids - there are well-known external benefits that justify such things.

I have posted before on Asian work ethics. I agree this ethnic group has high academic aspirations.

Beau and anon (2) I disagree and my arguments prove you claims are not valid. There is no obvious intrinsic reason why education should only be public. Competition is good. And anon your comment reveals you didn't read my post - private kids get less subsidy than public kids so the private schools release resources for public schools.

Fred, I favour increased public spending in all schools. The class thing bothers me - Melbourne University takes mainly private school kids and I agree the private schools are stingy when it comes to scholarships. Also inefficient as they get really bright kids with scholarships, which generate lots of educational externalities.

John said...

Doing the maths on your figures brings total expenditure per student on average in private schools to be $14290, in govt schools $10390 and in catholic schools $9200.
Therein lies the problem:the parents of children in govt and catholic schools see a growing inequity based on the ability to pay.
This is exacerbated by the low interest or tax free loans available to private schools and a ready source of easy fundraising by the usually quite well-off parents in the private schools.
Hence an ever widening gap of "privilege" which most of us in Australia find contrary to the so-called Australian values espoused by the Prime Minister

Damien Eldridge said...

Fred, Catholic schools have been around in Australia for a long time now. Do you think that they are socially divisive?

Anonymous said...

As someone without kids I'm subsidising all you bozos. At least the public schools seem grateful.

rabee said...


It's a question of being sure that there is no discrimination in the enrollment process.

I'm talking about exclusionary enrollment procedures that are not clearly stated and are not transparent. Something that characterizes most private schools.

Private schools should be required to clearly state their selection criterions and to be subject to public oversight in this regard.

In short, accepting public money means you become accountable to public scrutiny.

My understanding is that most private schools have no transparent selection criterions and base their selection in part on family interviews. This is neither transparent nor subject to oversight.

Private schools are also exempt from certain anti-discrimination laws. If they receive public money they should be covered by the same rules as other institutions that dip into the public purse.

Damien Eldridge said...

I wonder what would happen if every non-public school in Australia was to shut down overnight. I suspect that it would cost taxpayers a lot more for them to be educated at public schools than it does presently for them to be educated at non-public schools.

conrad said...

I think you see the glass as half-full Harry, whereas I it see at as half-empty.

I don't think that Asian (and many other for that matter) groups have high academic ideals -- its that many other groups (including Australians) have comparitively low academic ideals.

If you look at this way then you can ask questions like why there is such a large group of Australians that are basically wrecking the public education system for the rest.

S. Evans said...

People don't piss away thousands of dollars for no reason so it is obvious that the quality of private schools is better. I'm sure this will be backed up by any comparative study of educational outcomes you wish to find. This obviously disadvantages those children of equal intelligence but from a less well off background.

This differential in teaching standards creates distortions down the track, one example being that private school students are overrepresented in university admissions, it follows that a disproportional ammount of the subsidisies for universities is taken by private school students. i'm sure that this effect would largely counter the differential in subsidies between private and public school students. If not this differential would be certainly more then compensate in terms of distortion of future earnings, as people with a university education on average have a much higher income then those without, this suggest taht the small differntial in funding in a childs early years creates large differeneces in earning potentials down the track.

It is not the governments job to reinforce hereditary privelege, if parents want private schools they can pay it completely out of their own pocket. They have access to public schools if they so choose, if not too bad.

hc said...

Damien summarised my main point eloquently - private school supporters increase resources to public schools.

Anonymous said...

(the student from the last private-public post)

The thing which most irritates me about the private-public situation (apart from the lack of motivation for self-improvement for public school teachers) is that the current system seems to embrace a "two doors" approach.

In what is essentially the same as the HECS-HELP and FEE-HELP systems, we have two systems, both subsidised; with one essentially for the rich and one for the poor.

Sure, in both cases the private one recieves less funding than the public one.

But pointing out the cross-subsidisation or the number of Howard battlers who enrol their children at independent schools seems to me like FEE-HELP students pointing out that they achieved a certain benchmark ENTER - when in fact they are occupying the places of higher achieving students.

I'm not sure of a solution, but even the idea of a voucher system seems far fairer to me than the current "two pathways, both subsidised, one with a ceiling on potential funds" system.

Ksenia said...

does anyone know how much private and public schools get funded by the government?(seperatly) i need this information by tomorrow 7am for a school debate

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Charmaine said...

One of the side-affect problems I see occuring from the higher rate of increase of enrollment into non-government schools is that many public schools are becoming smaller in comparison. The funding may well be fair on a ratio of per student, but when a school has minimal enrolments that means that there are less resources for diversity of education by means of specialist teachers in areas such as music, art etc.

hc said...

That's a sound argument Charmaine that suggests the need to exploit scale economies. So you need to get enrollments to a minimum level to operate at minimum costs.

One approach has been ti address this problem via school closures and consolidations. Not very popular in Victoria but really only reflecting changed demographics and the move to private schools.