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Top high schools rake in millions as public schools suffer

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While the Commonwealth is meant to be gradually reducing funding by the end of 2028 to the 80 per cent target, Independent Schools Australia is lobbying for replacement funding ahead of the federal election.

The top schools for Commonwealth overfunding for 2022-28 in terms of percentage over their SRS. Credit:Graphic: Kathleen Adele

This is despite independent schools already getting hundreds of millions in transitional funding this decade to soften the new status quo, plus hundreds of millions in JobKeeper payments in 2020 (WA private schools received $77 million in Jobkeeper, which enabled most to post healthier profits than they did pre-COVID).

Meanwhile, public schools operate with a deficit

Funding agreements for WA public schools work the other way, with the Commonwealth to fund 20 per cent by 2028. WA’s deal is to supply 75 per cent, meaning this decade, WA public schools face a 5 per cent shortfall.

Moreover, Save Our Schools says the WA government negotiated as part of its deal that it can count significant administrative expenses towards its share, which the SRS architects never intended.

SOS says in practice this means WA public schools will get only a maximum of 91 per cent of what they need.

National convenor Trevor Cobbold estimated cumulative under-funding of public schools this decade at $5 billion.

“This skulduggery robs public schools,” he said.

“We are at a critical point in the future of school funding. The Morrison government is under pressure to provide another special deal for private schools.”

He said it was time for all the parties to outline how they would fix the inequity.

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A spokesman for acting federal Education Minister Stuart Robert said investment for public schools was growing faster at around 4.7 per cent per student each year, compared to 3.8 per cent for private.

He said Commonwealth funding for public schools had more than doubled since 2013 and would increase a further 34.2 per cent by 2029. Its funding for private schools had increased 84 per cent since 2013 and would increase a further 28.6 per cent to 2029.

He said the Commonwealth was meeting all its obligations.

Federal Labor opposition education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said when the existing agreements expired at the end of 2023, Labor would strike new deals with state governments to make sure every Australian public school was on a path to reach 100 per cent of the SRS.

“Every underfunded public school will be better off under Labor,” she said.

WA Education Minister Sue Ellery said the 2018 negotiations for the public schools arrangement represented a successful lobby by WA. She said WA public schools were now getting the highest level of state funding of any state in Australia and other states were striving to match this.

“Over the life of the agreement, public schools in Western Australia will receive funding increases to keep pace with salary increases, changes in student enrolments and loadings based on student needs,” she said.

“In addition to this funding, the State will also contribute around $168 million of extra funding into the public education system to meet its funding contribution requirements in 2022 and 2023.”

St Mary’s, Hale and All Saints’ declined to comment. Independent Schools Australia and the remaining schools did not respond to requests for comment.

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