Going Going, Gonski: public schools finally abandoned for the elite

by | Nov 9, 2020 | Government

With its favouritism of funding wealthy Independent and Catholic schools, the Morrison Government has completed the demolition of the Gonski funding model that began with the Abbott and Turnbull governments. Yet public schools educate more than 80% of disadvantaged students and 95% of disadvantaged schools are public schools. Trevor Cobbold reports.

The Morrison Government has abandoned public education and is blatantly favouring private schools with special billion-dollar funding deals over the next decade. They will ensure that the existing resource gap between public and private schools will widen dramatically.

Yet public schools enrol more than 80% of the nation’s disadvantaged students – those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, Indigenous students, those with a disability and students living in remote areas. Furthermore, 95% of disadvantaged schools are public schools.

The massive funding bias coincides with continuing huge gaps in achievement between rich and poor. The latest PISA international tests show that low socio-economic status and Indigenous students are two to three years or more behind their high socio-economic status peers. There has been virtually no change in the gaps since 2006.

A critical factor behind this social inequity is that government funding increases have not been fully targeted at need. Since 2009, after adjusting for inflation, recurrent funding per student by the Commonwealth and state governments increased by 25% for Independent schools, 21% for Catholic schools and just 3% for public schools. Recurrent funding includes funding for teachers’ salaries, maintenance of school buildings and so on.

Government funding increases have favoured privilege over disadvantage.

With its blatant favouritism, the Morrison Government has completed the demolition of the Gonski funding model that began with the Abbott and Turnbull governments. Those governments ditched the large funding increase for 2018 and 2019 that was planned under the original Gonski funding model, an increase that would have mainly benefitted public schools.

Commonwealth funding to 2029

Private schools are already much better resourced than public schools. In 2018, the total income of Independent schools was $23,029 per student and $16,401 per student in Catholic schools compared to $14,940 per student in public schools.

Massive funding increases for private schools planned by the Morrison Government to 2029 will exacerbate the disparity. By 2029, Commonwealth funding for Catholic schools per student will be nearly five times that provided for each public school student ($19,732 compared to $4,882). Funding for Independent schools of $13,063 per student will be nearly three times that for public school students.

Commonwealth funding for private schools

Save Our Schools’ estimates used official data provided by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment.

The planned increases in Commonwealth funding for Catholic schools especially is extraordinary. Catholic schools will receive an increase of $10,373 per student, Independent schools will receive an increase of $5,328 per student while public schools will receive an increase of a measly $1,962 per student.

Total Commonwealth funding for Catholic schools is due to increase by nearly $8 billion between 2018 and 2029 compared to $3.1 billion for Independent schools and $5.1 billion for public schools. See Chart 2. However, because enrolments in public schools are nearly double the enrolments in private schools, the actual increase per student is significantly lower for public schools.

Commonwealth funding for growth in enrolments  

Special deals

The Morrison Government has introduced special funding deals worth nearly $5 billion over the next decade, but none of this money is available to public schools, only private schools, with a strong bias towards Catholic over Independent schools.

Catholic schools will receive more than 90% of the increase – about $4.5 billion compared to $345 million for Independent schools. Yet this massive boost is not based on need, despite the Morrison Government’s claims to the contrary.

The large part of the increase comes from a new method of funding private schools based on a direct income measure of the capacity of families to contribute. This is worth nearly $3.7 billion for Catholic schools.

Yet, it is fundamentally flawed as a measure of need as I noted last month because it ignores many sources of family income and wealth and a school’s income and wealth. Moreover, the amount of the increase was decided in secret negotiations between the Morrison Government and the Catholic Church before the actual measure of direct income was even decided.

‘To those who have, more will be given’: Largesse to private schools continues

Among the myriad new special deals for private schools that are not available for public schools is a slush fund called the Choice and Affordability Fund worth $1.2 billion over the next 10 years, some $172 million for schools to transition to the new funding method and $46 million for ACT private schools to adjust to higher levels of funding….yes, really! Private schools will also receive an additional $30 million in funding in 2020 for drought and Covid-19 assistance.

Public schools educate about 65% of the nation’s children and more than 80% of disadvantaged students. A new approach to school funding is essential, especially if Australia wants to take part in the knowledge economy, which is going to be more critical than ever in a post-pandemic recovery.


Trevor Cobbold

Trevor Cobbold

Trevor Cobbold is National Convenor of Save Our Schools.


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    You may wish to consider the impact of the Capital Grants Program for non-government schools provided by the Commonwealth Government. There are some unusual grants which the Block Grant Authority is not picking-up on, or is allowing to be approved outside of program guidelines.

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    Take it as read, that an incoming Albanese government, would preserve church schools as the preferred provider, plus school chaplains going into government schools.

    Just one of the many reasons, why we won’t see an incoming Albanese government.

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    Will a Labor government be any better?

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      who do you think tried to push through the original gonski measures lol

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      This article is literally about Liberals dismantling Labor’s funding arrangements.

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      Is that some sort of defense against this rubbish?

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        Tch tch. A little testy? No, it’s a question. There are catholics in the Labor party as well. I’m asking, will they favour private schools also.

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        I think any major party will favour private schools. But I also believe that from their historical record the Labor Party does this to a lesser extent than historical LNP Coalition governments

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    Our body politic is rotting from the diversion of public money to private education. Sped up by the sloth and servility of Labour, Liberal, Nationals.

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    What I really don’t get is why can’t total government (combined state/federal) school funding be a flat figure per child that is stage of schooling dependent? Yes some schools will need more per student, but this should be targeted at public schools before private/Catholic.

    Generally, governments prefer private organisations (including schools) running programs because then they don’t have to spend money, but it seems that the status quo currently gives MORE money to organisations that are meant to be “saving” money for the government than the government pays its own “organisations”.

    If a private school wants to collect additional fees from parents to “top up” the bucket, that is on them. Government shouldn’t be topping up private education any more than the basic requirements.

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      Andrew, that’s pretty much what the Gonski reforms were working toward.

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    right-wing politics takes from the poor to give to the rich

    left-wing politics takes from the rich to give to the poor

    if you want more for the poor, you have to get a left-wing goverment elected …

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      Here here!

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        Hear hear even!
        It’s time the poor got a go! The gap needs to be narrowed!

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    We need another go at Gonski (just preparing for my run at the top, how is my slogan generation going?)

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    Interesting read, but there’s no mention of state funding for schools in all of this. What level of state funding do public schools receive that private schools are not eligible for?

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      From the article, public schools receive a total of $15k, of which $5k is federal.

      The interesting issue is that the GPS fees have continued to increase despite huge federal funding. Keeping out the riff raff, since these schools produce most of our political and business masters.

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    I cried reading this, my kids have finished their schooling (public). I wasn’t aware that the Gonski needs based modelling had totally been destroyed.
    This government is cruel, elitist to the extreme and rubbing the faces of 95%of Aussies in the dirt, arrogantly smirking as they do it.
    I’m stunned, sickened and deeply saddened.
    How can people vote for this? Their selfishness and greed will never be satisfied, appalling.

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    Catholic, and Protestant schools pay NO Income tax on the income they receive on their enormous property and business portfolio’s, all over the World for the past thousand years(at least) and yet, Governments continue to subsidise their schools with millions/billions of TAXPAYERS dollars. It is outrageous “Socialism for the Rich”. The Catholic Church in particular, is “The World’s Largest Paedophile Sanctuary as well.
    WAKE UP Australia! We’re getting Screwed, by these “Jesus” Ratbags.

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    The great skill of the Liberal Party in collaboration with News Corp, is to convince 51% of the general public that a party which does not give a rat’s arse for the general public is their preferred government. Altruism is a dirty word. Greed and selfishness rule.

    A masterstroke of dishonesty and double speak, which will continue while ever dishonesty wins elections.

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    Mr West, I am interested in being more involved in this matter. Wendy Sager



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