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School funding after Batman and Longman

  • 06 August 2018


There's no letup in the school funding battle. It has featured in the last two rounds of federal by-elections. Economics writer Ross Gittins, with his Salvation Army roots, has a strong commitment to the poor. He says, 'The Catholics are trying to extract special deals from both Labor and the Coalition before the election, while the largely Protestant "independent" sector is threatening to arc up if the Catholics succeed. Hope Jesus is pleased with the example you're setting your students, guys.' Ouch!

Minister Simon Birmingham says, 'The Turnbull government's focus has always been to deliver a fair funding system for schools that is transparent, consistently applied, needs-based and aligned with the firm belief that every student deserves at least some level of support. We remain committed to these principles.'

There are five questions in this ongoing saga: 1. Is the pot big enough? 2. Are the principles right? 3. Is the application of the principles right? 4. Are the transitional arrangements adequate? 5. Are the right parties being consulted? The National Schools Resourcing Board chaired by businessman Michael Chaney was required to address only questions 2 and 3. The government released the board's report last month.

There are three principles of public policy at play. The consistent and fair application of all three principles is a big political challenge.

1. A fair base payment and loadings for those suffering disadvantage

The Commonwealth's direct contribution to schools should include a base payment, payable per capita, and a top-up payment on the basis of need. The base payment represents the efficient cost of achieving agreed outcomes in schools with no significant disadvantage. In non-government schools, the base payment for each student has been discounted, considering the socioeconomic status (SES) of parents.

The SES hasn't been applied purely to some non-government schools, particularly Catholic systemic schools and some other schools of long standing. The modification of pure application of the SES was called 'Student Weighted Average' or 'Funding Maintained'. Critics have labelled such arrangements as 'special deals', especially for the Catholics.


"Is the Coalition or Labor prepared to pay a premium for the maintenance of Catholic and other non-government primary schools so that state governments do not need to pay even more for an expanded state system?"


The Turnbull government is proposing to apply the SES with a blindfold, ensuring that the base payment to a non-government school will be the same, regardless of whether the school is Catholic or not,