- The Guardian
- Issue #1966
The disparity between the working class and the wealthy in Australia manifests itself in many ways across the country. One of the most insidious ways this disparity materialises is in government spending on education. Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that over sixty-five per cent of children in 2020 were enrolled in government schools. Given that an overwhelming majority of our children are educated in public schools, you would think that the government would ensure that these institutions received the bulk if not all of the funding. Think again.
A new report by economist Adam Rorris, Investing in Schools – Funding the Future, highlights the discrepancy in government funding between government and non-government schools. One of the key findings in this report was that “Public schools in all states and territories have under-investment compared to their private school counterparts.” Furthermore, non-government schools had “greater total capital investment seven years out of ten even though they have approximately half the enrolments.” What happened in the other three years? The Building the Education Revolution (BER) program initiated by the Rudd government. Before the BER period, the capital investment gap was $3.1bil as opposed to the BER period, where the gap was the smallest at $1.7bil. The gap has now exceeded the pre-BER period at $3.8bil. A closer look at the numbers finds that “On a per student basis, private schools enjoy greater investment every single year over the ten years.” Overall, the study found that during the decade up to 2018, “the cumulative capital investment gap between private and public sectors was $29.6bil.” Under whose watch did most of the capital investment gap accumulate? That’s right, folks, the Coalition, where during 2013-18, “the cumulative capital investment gap between private and public sectors was $21.5bil.”
In his report, Rorris wrote that “Investment in Australian schools has favoured private schools to an astonishing degree. Private schools have received investment in school facilities that is at least twice as much received by public schools per student in any given year (outside of the BER program years) and even as high as nearly four times in one year. This means for every dollar invested per child in a private school, a public school child would get somewhere between twenty-seven cents and fifty cents.” One of Rorris’ recommendations was that “state and territory governments commit a minimum capital investment per student in public schools that matches the average per student investment of all private schools.”
Speaking on the report, Correna Haythorpe, President of the Australian Education Union Federal branch, which commissioned the report, said “Australian public schools are one of our nation’s greatest institutions. Every school should be a place where every child can have their needs met, find the opportunity to thrive and meet their full potential.” Haythorpe also called on the Morrison government to invest back into public schools, stating that it would not only “leave a lasting legacy of improved public school facilities and improved learning outcomes, it would also stimulate economic growth by over $5bil per year and create 37,000 full time construction jobs.”
It is often said that the true measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. Australia is an unjust state in many ways, but the disproportionate way we treat students reflects where Australian society is currently. We must call on parliament to increase spending in government schools, phase out funding to non-government schools and so invest in Australia’ future!