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Support state and private schools equally

By Kevin Donnelly - posted Friday, 24 September 2010

In their comment piece "Australia near bottom of the class in government school funding", Lucas Walsh and Barbara Lemon say they are in favour of school choice when they state, "A challenge here is not to discourage choice or penalise any particular school sector".

It's a pity they fail to follow their own advice. Instead of supporting parents' right to choose between types of schools the two authors reveal themselves as pro-state schools and in favour of a funding model that would weaken the autonomy and viability of Catholic and independent schools.

Walsh and Lemon cite statistics from the OECD's Education at a Glance to support their argument that non-government schools are over funded to the detriment of state schools (Australia is ranked 26 out of 28 countries in terms of public expenditure on state schools and fourth highest in terms of public funding to non-government schools).


The funding situation in Australia is described as representing a "dangerous trajectory" and the figures are described as "appalling" and "pointing to a shameful inequity". The current socioeconomic status (SES) funding model comes in for particular criticism when it is described as "flawed, complex and not in the nation's best interest".

While Walsh and Lemon feel that Catholic and independent schools are receiving too much government funding, an argument can also be put that such schools, compared to government schools, are under funded and that they deserve increased investment and support.

The fact that Australia, compared to other OECD countries, ranks high in terms of public funding to non-government schools is because such a large percentage of students attend such schools. Across Australia, the figure amounts to about 33% of students, rising to over 40% at years 11 and 12.

It should also be noted that between the years 1998-2008 enrolments in Catholic and independent schools grew by 21.9%, while government school enrolments flat lined at 1.1%. Given that all students, regardless of school attended are entitled to a well resourced and properly funded education, it is only fair that governments contribute their fair share.

It should also never be forgotten that those parents who send their children to non-government schools, a right that is protected by international conventions and agreements, in addition to school fees, pay taxes that support a system they do not use.

As noted in the 2010 Report on Government Services, published by the Productivity Commission, government school students, on average, receive $12,639 in government funding, the figure for non-government school students is approximately half that cost, $6,606.


The reality is that every student that attends a non-government school saves government, and taxpayers, approximately $6,000. Some estimates put the savings to government at over $7 billion dollars a year and the fact is that the government school system would collapse if it had to enrol those students currently attending Catholic and independent schools.

Contrary to the impression often created by non-government school critics, it is also the case that the level of funding non-government schools receive is adjusted to take into account a school's socioeconomic profile. Wealthier schools only receive 13.5% of the cost to government of educating a student in a government school, with less privileged schools receiving 70% of such a figure.

In support of their belief that state schools have a greater right to government funding, Walsh and Lemon argue that while such schools "open their doors to all students", non-government schools are exclusive in nature, basing enrolments on "high fees, academic results or sporting ability".

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About the Author

Dr Kevin Donnelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University and he recently co-chaired the review of the Australian national curriculum. He can be contacted at He is author of Australia’s Education Revolution: How Kevin Rudd Won and Lost the Education Wars available to purchase at

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