Gonski: different funding arrangements for different schools

The Gonski reforms will mean different levels of funding for different schools according to a variety of factors. AAP Image/Dan Peled

In an attempt to pressure state leaders on schools funding reform, prime minister Julia Gillard revealed new data showing the difference her package would make at the national and state level. The June 30 deadline for the states is looming large, and so far only NSW has jumped on board.

Opposition spokesperson Christopher Pyne recently claimed there won’t be a boost to school spending. After the budget, Pyne told ABC radio it was now “quite clear that the government is cutting education for the next four years.”

Pyne also stated: “you can’t possibly rely on fantasy figures, pushed out to 2018/19 beyond the forward estimates”. In this case, his statement is more correct. It’s true the spending plans assume a 3% indexation rate and extend beyond the forward estimates (2019 vs 2017). However, the “fantasy” seems fairly realistic. There is no indication that the government intends to do anything beyond gradually increasing spending until the projected figures are reached.

But the budget itself shows increased education expenditures over the next four years (see graph below).

Education expenditures will increase over the next four years, contradicting opposition claims to the contrary. Federal Budget 2013, (section 6-20, Table 7)

But what would this extra money under the National Education Reform Agreement (NERA) mean in dollar terms for schools?

The metropolitan school

How will a metropolitan school – Brunswick East Primary in Melbourne is a good example - fare? Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) figures project an enrolment of 360 students in 2014, attracting the base funding level of A$9,271 for each of its students.

There will be over $11,000 for its dozen disadvantaged students who also have a non-English speaking background and an extra $7,000 for its four Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) students. Assuming 4.3% (the Victorian government sector average) of its students have disabilities, add an additional $250,000.

DEEWR estimates that approximately 14% of its students come from families that earn a below-average income translating to about $64,000 extra to support these students.

In total, the school would average around $10,200 per student, compared to the $8,900 under the current arrangements, or about an extra $1,300 per student.

If Victoria agrees to the 65:35 funding ratio (like NSW), then the federal government would pay $850 extra per student while the state government would contribute $450 per student.

According to DEEWR, the school would fully implement this new arrangement by 2019.

The remote school

Koroit Primary, just north of Warrnambool is in an area classified as “Inner Regional Australia”, attracting a base of $9,271 for each of its 120 students.

Three-quarters of its students come from families in the two lowest socioeconomic quartiles, so the school will attract almost $250,000 extra. With eight indigenous enrolments, the school would get $18,200 more. Again using the Victorian average of 4.3% students with a disability, Koroit would receive almost $87,000 extra in support.

Koroit will receive $150,000 for being a small school plus $45,000 for being an inner-regional school.

The Gonski funding means $2,050 more per student for Koroit Primary. Like Brunswick East, the Commonwealth government would provide 65% of the additional funding (about $1,330 per student by 2019) and Victoria would contribute the remaining $720 per student.

The wealthy private school

Melbourne Girls’ Grammar (MGG), is an Anglican private school and each of their 249 primary students will attract a base of $9,271 and its 630 secondary students will receive the standard secondary base of $12,193.

MGG gets no additional loading for being remote, having indigenous students or being a small school. However, it would attract around $250,000 to help its students with disabilities.

A tale of four Victorian schools. Author/Squirrel Main

Based on the socioeconomic status of the student body, the expected parent contribution would be about $9,600 per student. Current parental contributions are approximately $26,000.

All non-government schools get transition money. It may look like a 3% agreement to make sure no private school is worse off. This would be up to the Premier to negotiate.

Factoring in the parental and (a conservative) 3% transition allowance, government contribution per student would average at $3,100. Despite government claims that no school would lose a dollar, unless the transition money is increased, it would mean about $500 less per student at this school.

The disadvantaged private school

Marian College, a Catholic school in Melbourne, is a different sort of private school. It has 770 secondary students, 59% of whom have a language background other than English.

Under the new arrangements, Marian receives over $500,000 for low-income English Language Learners and money for students with disabilities.

Nearly three-quarters of its students come from poor backgrounds, increasing its funding by another $2 million. DEEWR projects the expected parent contribution to be 28%, or $3,350. Marian will also receive a 3% transition bonus.

Overall, the NERA plan means the government would contribute $2,080 more per student ($1,350 from the Commonwealth and $730 from the state)

This financial structure may have its intended effect of encouraging non-government schools to enrol more high-needs students.

Overall, the NERA plan means the government would contribute $2,080 more per student ($1,350 from the Commonwealth and $730 from the state). This financial structure may have its intended effect of encouraging non-government schools to enrol more high-needs students.

Playing politics

While the premiers are contemplating whther or not to sign up for the NERA funding, some are concerned the plan is too centralised.

Others are concerned about the money flowing to private schools — some say too much, some too little.

Still, a $14.5 billion boost to education funding is hard to refuse, whatever stripe your politics.