How to give a Gonski
Eternity’s guide to the ins and outs of the Gonski funding formula
The key to understanding the Gonski funding formula is the Schooling Resource Standard, the SRS, which decides how much federal funding goes to a school. The SRS is different for every school because there are two components – the base amount per student plus extra funding for disadvantaged students. A school that has more disadvantaged students will get more money.
When the Gillard Government brought in the SRS funding formula – which was based in part on the Gonski report – they said they wanted to apply it to everyone. The confusing thing was that the SRS was building on the fact that the federal government had different funding agreements with all the different school systems – Catholics, independents, NSW public schools, Queensland public schools and the rest.
When Gillard brought in the SRS it didn’t override those agreements; it worked within those agreements, so the way it worked was quite complicated. The Turnbull government is going to end all those agreements and schools are all going to be funded consistently under this one funding formula.
Even though the funding formula says specific schools are entitled to this or that, it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s what they’re going to get.
However, the allocated funding is not given to individual schools but to approved authorities, such as the Catholic Education Commission of NSW, or the Department of Education. So even though the funding formula says specific schools are entitled to this or that, it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s what they’re going to get because it is up to the approved authorities to distribute the money however they want.
The other thing to understand is how funding will grow. The government has said that all non-government schools are going to be funded at 80 per cent of their SRS entitlement by 2027. On average, at the moment, non-government schools receive 77 per cent of their SRS. The complication is that some independent schools are receiving a lot more than 80 per cent, so they’re going to have their funding cut. The Catholic system is receiving closer to 80 per cent than most of the independent schools, which is why the growth in funding for the Catholic system is going to be less than for independent schools over the next ten years.
They’re going to be treated differently over the next ten years so that in ten years’ time they’re all being treated exactly the same.
So because schools have a different starting point because of the agreements they used to have, it means they’re going to be treated differently over the next ten years so that in ten years’ time they’re all being treated exactly the same under the funding formula.
Some rich schools have been getting a lot less than 80 per cent of their SRS because they have few disadvantaged students, so they will get an increase but from a relatively low base.
The Turnbull government is also going to fund 20 per cent of the SRS for government schools. The federal government has always funded more of non-government than state schools, which are primarily funded by the states. And the states are saying we want extra money.
The Catholic school system argues that it’s a flawed measure that disadvantages poor schools.
What the Turnbull government is promising is less money than the Gillard government promised but the original Gillard promises were unfunded – there was no funding allocated in the budget. Also with this new system it’s exactly the same problem. The Turnbull government has promised $18.6 billion over the next ten years, but 16.4 billion of that is beyond the four years of the forward estimate. So almost 90 per cent of the funding is unfunded.
The other complication is what’s called the capacity to contribute, which is a measure of the parents’ capacity to pay or the capacity of the school to raise fees. This does not affect the extra funding for disadvantaged students, but the proportion of the base amount a school receives varies from 20 per cent and 90 per cent depending on the school’s socioeconomic status (SES). A school in a high SES area may only get 20 per cent of the base amount while a school in a very low SES area will get 90 per cent of the base amount
This seems logical, but the Catholic school system argues that it’s a flawed measure that disadvantages poor schools because the data is based on a residential address, not what individual parents are earning. All you know are average earnings in the postcode according to the latest census. This means that, in an area with a school that charges high fees and a school that charges low fees, the SES will tend to underestimate the ability for rich schools to charge fees and overestimate the ability for poorer schools to charge fees.
The Catholic system argues that the special deals they used to have compensated for that. Now that they are losing their special deals, they say they are disadvantaged because Catholic schools tend to charge much lower fees than other independent schools.
In fact, any low-fee independent or Christian school is disadvantaged by it. The median fee for independent schools is around $6000-7000. Median fees for Catholic schools are around $2000-3000 but there are some Catholic schools outside of the system that charge higher fees and there are some independent schools that charge low fees as well.
But when you see that over the next ten years all non-government schools are going to be treated the same you can see that what the government is doing makes sense.
Blaise Joseph of the Centre for Independent Studies published a report called The Fantasy of Gonski Funding: The ongoing battle over school funding.