Australia: Entrenched inequality in public school funding

published 25 February 2019 updated 28 February 2019

The Australian Education Union (AEU) has reacted to a report into the provision of childcare, education and training: highlighting that pubic authorities favour private schools over public schools when it comes to funding, and demanding that an end be put to the Morrison government’s inequal treateent of public schools.

Government denies public schools the resources needed to provide high quality education

According to the Productivity Commission’s Report into Government Services(ROGS), released on 6 February 2019,growth in per-student government funding for private schools in 2018 was ten times greater than that for public schools.

The Australian Education Union (AEU) has highlighted report findings that include:

  • annual per student growth in funding private schools in 2016/17 was 3.7 per cent, compared with only 0.36 per cent for public schools;
  • private school funding per student has grown 2.7 times faster than public school funding per student in the last decade; and
  • government funding for public schools has grown by only 10.8% over the last ten years, whereas government funding for private schools has grown by 28.7%.

ROGS clearly lays out the gap in funding growth between public and private schools and the fact that it is rapidly accelerating under the Morrison government. It demonstrates that the government’s 2017 school funding legislation entrenches inequality, provides a preference for private schools over public schools, and denies public schools the resources needed to provide a high quality education

The report also makes a mockery of the Morrison government’s claims to observe equitable needs-based funding and sector blindness, and recommends that the government use the Federal Budget to restore the $14 billion it has stripped from public schools.

The AEU is part of a coalition that has launched the Fair Funding Now! campaign. It will focus on the government’s inequal treatment for public schools in the lead up to the next elections.

Fewer teachers entering federal politics

Declining funding allocated to the public education system can probably  partly explain the decreasing number of teachers who have entered federal politics over the past 30 years, as underlined in the report “The way in: representation in the Australian Parliament” published by policy group “Per Capita”.

According to the report, in 1988 teaching was the most common career path for members of the country’s federal parliament. Nearly a quarter (23.2%) of MPs in 1988 (including a third of Labour MPs) came from teaching backgrounds. In 2018, this figure had dropped to only 12.4% (including one fifth of all Labour MPs who still come from teaching backgrounds).

The study however shows that there has been an exponential growth of new MPs with political advisor backgrounds (in 1988 3.6% of MPs, in 2018 38.9%) and a doubling of MPs with a banking or finance background (in 1988 4% of MPs, in 2018 9.7%)

The educational background of Australian federal parliamentary representatives has also changed noticeably in the past 30 years.

Graduates from government schools were under-represented in 1988, and still are under-represented today. Then and now, MPs are much more likely to be privately educated than the broader public. In 2018, 66% of Australian children went to public school as compared to only 39% of MPs.

The AEU is concerned about the decreasing number of federal MPs with experience in public schools or vocational education as either a student or a teacher.

The education union stresses that a vast majority of children attend public schools, and it is vital that the federal parliament contains more members who understand the importance of a fairly-funded and -resourced public school system.