'No logic': calls for a review of state-federal school funding split

| 15 May 2019

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JORDAN BAKER for the Sydney Morning Herald.

See original article here.  

The division between state and federal governments' school funding responsibilities has hampered fair funding across private and public sectors and should be scrapped, says the head of the Gonski Institute for Education, Adrian Piccoli.

Under the school funding formula, the Commonwealth contributes 80 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard for private schools, and the state government is responsible for the remaining 20 per cent. Proportions are reversed for public schools.

Professor Piccoli, a former NSW education minister, said the split - formalised in 2017 - was arbitrary. "There's no logic behind it," he said. "It advantages the sectors that have the funder with the greatest capacity to raise revenue."


School children sitting with hands up
Government school funding responsibilities need an overhaul, says Gonski Institute director Adrian Piccoli. CREDIT:QUENTIN JONES


His comments come after the Herald revealed on Wednesday that government funding boosts to private schools outstripped increases to public schools in the 10 years to 2017, despite national consensus on needs-based funding.

Public school funding grew by just $155 a student over the decade after accounting for student numbers and teacher wage growth, while private school students each received $1429, an analysis of Productivity Commission data by the Grattan Institute found.

The disparity was due to significant increases in Commonwealth money. As the federal government mainly funds private schools, more of that money went to the Catholic and independent sectors than to public schools.

The states were slower to inject money. But as the primary funder of public schools, they also have a much bigger bill. In NSW, two thirds of schools are government-run, and the cost is not offset by parent contributions.

Professor Piccoli - the director of the institute named after the businessman who did the original school funding review, David Gonski - said the Commonwealth had greater revenue-raising capacity than the states, which relied heavily on GST revenue and federal handouts.

He argued the solution was not as simple as demanding more investment from the states. "There's no logic behind [the split]," he said. "It advantages the sectors that have the funder with the greatest capacity to raise revenue.

Adrian Piccoli
Adrian Piccoli

"Just get rid of [the split], and have the Commonwealth fund a percentage of all schools, and the states fund the rest. Therefore whatever happens with the Commonwealth funding ... every school benefits.

"If [the formula is] not working in practice, then it's not working."

The Grattan Institute's school education program director, Peter Goss, agreed the splits were arbitrary. "The key goal is that each school is funded at its target level ... this can be done with or without the 80-20 funding splits."

The National Catholic Education Commission was "not wedded to the 80/20 split," said executive director Jacinta Collins, who pointed out that the original Gonski report called for a review of the disproportionate shares between both levels of government for different sectors.

Labor's education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said she would scrap the 20 per cent cap on federal government funding for public schools if the party wins the election, and inject an extra $14 billion into the sector.

NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said the decision about the split was one for the Commonwealth.

Victorian Education Minister James Merlino has been pushing Canberra to lift its contribution to public schools to 25 per cent. "The bottom line is that [Prime Minister Scott Morrison's] current deal unfairly funds public school students less than private school students," he said.

There has long been an informal split in the state-federal responsibilities for private and public education funding, but it was formalised in 2017 in a bid to make all governments accountable.