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On February 16, The Age published a report which was based on a document prepared by Save Our Schools, a small activist group that campaigns against government funding for non-government schools.

A fundamental flaw in the SOS document in that it is based on flawed and disingenuous methodology – its use of percentage increases in government funding for schools between 2009 and 2013. It uses these percentages to argue that government funding favours non-government schools over disadvantaged government schools.

Some facts:

The government schools mentioned in the SOS report receive substantially more government funding per student than non-government schools.
All of the ‘elite’ non-government schools mentioned in the report are among the lowest government-funded schools in Victoria.
Mathematically, it is much easier to generate a larger percentage growth rate from a lower base.
Quite often the lower percentage growth in the funding for the government schools is associated with a higher absolute increase in funding over the same period.
For instance, a 16% funding increase to a selected government school is $1554 per student, while a 38 per cent increase to a selected Independent school is $938 per student.

The funding allocated to both government and non-government schools is based on a measurement of the needs of the school population.

So, the percentage change in a school’s funding is a function of the change in the relative need of the school population between the start and the end of the measurement period.
In the SOS analysis, the reference to ‘elite’ and ‘disadvantaged’ schools pretends that these concepts are static over time.
A non-government school might be enrolling more educationally disadvantaged students compared to previous years, and/or a government school may be enrolling fewer disadvantaged students.
For instance, the proportion of students in each socio-educational advantage quartile might have changed for a selected Independent and a selected government school between 2009 and 2013 – with students in the selected Independent school becoming more disadvantaged and those in the selected government school becoming less disadvantaged.

The SOS report contains a crucial caveat buried on page 7:

This is not to say that all disadvantaged public schools in Victoria and NSW received smaller funding increases than elite private schools. Funding increases for many disadvantaged schools have matched those for the selected elite private schools and, in many cases, have exceeded them. On the other hand, many elite schools have received smaller increases than their counterparts selected here.

Any assessment of the SOS report needs to take this caveat into account.

Conclusion
The myths surrounding education funding are so pervasive and insidious that it’s worth keeping in mind some basic points.

All Australian schools in all sectors deserve adequate funding, for the good of our children and broader advancement of our nation.
Discussion about school funding is not helped by the simplistic exploitation of statistics to make ideological points.
Independent schools receive substantially less government funding than government schools.
Nationally, in 2013-14 Independent schools received, on average, an estimated $8,121 per student in total government funding compared to $16,177 for a student in a government school.
The most recent Productivity Commission data shows that in 2013-2014, the Australian and Victorian governments provided combined funding of $7.795 billion to Victorian government schools, compared to an estimated $900 million to Victorian Independent schools (and $1.977 billion to Victorian Catholic schools).
In 2012, Victorian independent schools received, on average, 33.8% of their income from the Victorian and Australian governments – the rest was paid for by parents.

The facts and the material in these comments have been provided by Michelle Green, Executive Director of Independent Schools Victoria (ISV) and I thank her for her support of The Knox School.

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