Private schools cost taxpayers almost as much as public ones, report says
Different figures could no doubt have been produced by other researchers but that is not the main issue. Choice is the issue. Private schools give parents some choice of what sort of schooling they want for their kids. They should be entitled to that. It's an important liberty.
Such schooling clearly saves the government on capital costs. Governments don't build private schools. The school arrives at no cost to the taxpayer. State school building is a significant budget item for State governments.
How much it saves on running costs is only an issue for authoritarian Leftists who use the issue in an attempt to force all kids into one government-controlled mould: Very Soviet
Governments would have been financially better off if all new enrolments since 2011 had gone to public schools, according to new research which questions the view that private schools lead to big taxpayer savings.
The paper debunks the oft-repeated claim that private schools save the public purse up to $8 billion a year, and argues the true figure is closer to $1 billion, and potentially less.
The School Money-go-round, by researcher and former principal Chris Bonnor and Sydney University academic Rachel Wilson, found the per-student taxpayer spend in some brackets of disadvantage is less at public than private schools.
"Since 2011, in fact, governments would have come out ahead [in terms of recurrent funding] if all new school enrolments had gone to public schools," Mr Bonnor said.
A new report says private schools save governments far less than most people think
A new report says private schools save governments far less than most people think Credit:Louie Douvis
The authors said the findings should lead to a national discussion over restructuring school funding, and prompt governments to make the non-government sector abide by the same rules as public schools. "They have no obligations to serve a wide variety of students," said Mr Bonnor.
Since the Gonski reforms, funding increases to private schools have outstripped those to public schools because the federal government, which provides most public funding to private schools, has met its targets faster than the states. States have a bigger cost because they are the majority funders of state schools, and there are two public schools for each private school.
By 2017 differences in per-student funding had narrowed to $13,300 in the public system, $11,500 for Catholic school students and $9600 in the independent sector on average, according to the most recent data from the My School website.
But the researchers argued those figures masked the fact that students in the public system were the most expensive to educate, because they had higher numbers of disadvantaged, Indigenous and disabled students.
When the authors - who also included the former principal of St Paul's Grammar, academic Paul Kidson - compared per-student spending on schools with similar students, the gap became much narrower.
Among disadvantaged schools, the median amount of per-student taxpayer money spent on Catholic students was highest at $14,350, followed by $13,850 in the independent sector and $13,450 in the government system.
When the researchers calculated the cost of funding all students at the same per-student cost of government students across all bands of disadvantage, they found the cost would be between $800 million and $1.1 billion.
"Advocates for school systems need to keep up to date with the changing financial situation," Mr Bonnor said. "Because non government schools charge fees, they are de facto selective schools on a socio-educational basis. In equivalent countries overseas, that doesn't happen."
Dr Wilson said there was increasing evidence that segregation eroded the quality of school systems. "Now is the time for a full, national discussion on this," she said. "There's a creeping awareness that across education we need some really bold reform.
"And these school funding arrangements would have to be central to how that would occur."
The chief executive of the Association of Independent Schools NSW, Geoff Newcombe, said one in three students attended private schools, and parents paid a third of the recurrent cost and 90 per cent of building costs.
"It is clear parents enrolling their children in non-government schools save taxpayers billions of dollars each year in recurrent and capital funding," he said. "Savings estimates will vary based on methodology.
Non-government schools are already required by governments to meet significant compliance obligations as part of their registration requirements. We welcome transparency and accountability."
A spokeswoman for the National Catholic Education Committee, said 2017 figures showed the Catholic system saved taxpayers $2.3 billion in savings from the amount deducted from the base level of government funding.
They also saved $1.3 billion in building costs. "Catholic schools funded 89 per cent of capital works with state and federal governments contributing only $152 million combined," she said. Private and public schools had different reporting requirements because they were different entities.
Peter Goss, the head of the school education program at the Grattan Institute, described the report as important, and said while the non-government sector would quibble over details, the central argument of the report was correct.
"Non-government schools no longer save taxpayers much at all," he said. "The sad reality is that unfairness is now baked into our school funding model.
"While Gonski 2.0 in 2017 was a big step forward, several policy decisions since then have taken us backwards. And we can’t even console ourselves by saying that we pay less tax because of it.”