Australia

Catholics say private schools receiving almost $750m from taxpayers

Taxpayers are pouring an extra $747 million each year into the coffers of the country's elite private schools under the Government's own test of need.

Key points:

  • Schools that raise enough private income to reach their resource standard (SRS) are receiving an additional $747 million each year, the report says
  • The report acknowledges there are 10 Catholic schools whose private income exceeds their SRS
  • Changes to school funding legislation have divided the Catholic and Independent sectors

That is the conclusion of a report by the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria that analyses a complex array of published data to estimate school wealth.

The report titled "The need to rethink need: How the Gonski Review got it wrong on funding non-government schools", challenges what it says are "dubious" measurements of school need.

"There are almost 200 non-government schools that raise all of the funding their students are estimated to need from private sources — mostly school fees," the report said.

"Even though these schools already raise enough private income to reach their resource standard, the Australian Government nevertheless grants them almost $750 million each year."

The CECV will today publish a list of 54 schools nationwide that charge fees it estimates are equivalent to the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS), which determines the amount of funding every child needs to receive an education.

The report acknowledges there are 10 Catholic schools whose private income exceeds their SRS.

Schools on the list include Canberra Grammar, Sydney Grammar, Knox Grammar and Melbourne's Wesley College and Haileybury College.

In Queensland, Brisbane Grammar and The Southport School are listed while in South Australia, it is St Peter's College and the Westminster School in Adelaide. Scotch College in Perth and The Friends School in Hobart, are also named.

Stephen Elder, the Executive Director of the Catholic Education Office in Melbourne has been spearheading a campaign against the Federal Government's school funding changes.

The changes announced last year ended what the Federal Education Minister Mr Birmingham said were "special deals" that gave hundreds of millions of dollars to state-based Catholic education commissions.

'Not just about Catholic and Independent Schools'

Mr Elder said today that this latest report should prompt the Schools Resourcing Board to ask hard questions.

"This just isn't about Catholic and Independents, this is about the Government's funding model that gives an entitlement to schools that they don't deserve because they meet the resourcing standard through their own fee income," Mr Elder said.

"Those schools that are charging massive fees, well in excess of what the student resource standard is, they should be asked to reduce those fees, and they shouldn't get any incentive for Government to charge those fees to the tune of $750m that would be better off spent in those poor Catholic and Independent schools which the Government has taken money from."

The Commonwealth funds private schools on a sliding scale depending on their level of need, which is determined under a system called the SES model.

How school funding works

  • The Commonwealth contributes 20 per cent of baseline funding for government schools, and a maximum of 80 per cent for non-government schools
  • Federal funding for non-government schools reduces depending on the school community's capacity to pay for students' education
  • The current system (the Socio-Economic Status method, or SES) draws on data from an average of 400 households in a census district
  • This is regardless of whether they have school-aged children and examines education, occupation, household income, and the income of families with children
  • The data is then linked to student residential-address data to generate a school SES score

A board appointed by Education Minister Simon Birmingham is reviewing whether the SES model accurately reflects school wealth, or the capacity of a school's community to support the school.

The changes to school funding legislation have divided the Catholic and Independent sectors.

The Executive Director of the Independent Schools Council of Australia, Collette Colman, said the Catholic sector's push for private school means testing suggested "all non-government schools should just charge minimal fees and cost-shift the bulk of their costs to the taxpayer."

"Clearly fees charged are not a measure of parental capacity to pay," Ms Colman said.

"So why are fees in Catholic systemic schools so low regardless of the socio-economic status (SES) characteristics of the schools' parents?

"Because the funding that Catholic systemic schools attract from the Australian Government bears virtually no resemblance to the funding that arrives at the Catholic school gate."

Senator Birmingham has not yet seen today's report, but issued a statement.

"I urge the CECV to constructively engage in the independent review they called for that is examining possible enhancements to the funding model, which currently provides an extra $3.5 billion for catholic schools," Senator Birmingham said.

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