Private funding initiatives have the potential to create – or further cement – a multi-tiered education system based on parental capacity and inclination to pay.
Senior lecturer at Queensland University of Technology Anna Hogan raised this concern on the back of an analysis of schools’ private income.
Drawing from 2015 ACARA data, Hogan and colleagues found that each year Australia’s school system attracted an estimated $8 billion in private funding.
While that figure included sources like donations and community fundraising. the majority came through school fees.
Independent schools totalled an average of $9,227 of private funding per student, followed by Catholic schools ($2,873) and government schools ($752).
And the more advantaged the school, the more private income it attracted.
In an article for The Conversation, Hogan said: “Parents in very disadvantaged independent schools paid an average of $1,225 in 2015 per student. This increased to an average of $14,624 in very advantaged independent schools.
“Parent fees at the most advantaged government schools were $745 in 2015 per student. At the most disadvantaged government schools, parents paid around $299 per student.”
Private school fees are growing faster than inflation, Hogan added, and are now “one of the biggest financial outlays in the average Australian family”.
“Only 50 per cent of families with children attending private schools pay fees from their disposable incomes. The rest, according to market-based research by Edstart, increase their credit card debt, take out personal loans, redraw on their mortgage, or borrow money — often from grandparents.”
And fees have increased in some public schools since 2015, too.
“Using metropolitan Brisbane schools as an example, Macgregor State High had a 19 per cent increase in fees between 2015 and 2019 — from $576 to $715 respectively,” Hogan said, but added some have actually reduced their fees.
Hogan pointed out that legislation prevents public schools from attaching parental fees to student enrolments, but added that schools use a range of strategies to promote fee payment, like excluding students from extra-curricular activities and excursions if parents have not paid fees. “This may compel parents to pay to avoid their child’s embarrassment,” she said.
When it came to other sources of income, like donations and fundraising, very advantaged independent schools received the most funding compared to all other independent schools, while very disadvantaged Catholic and private schools received the most from other income sources, when compared to other schools in their sector.
“This may be because disadvantaged schools are receiving targeted philanthropy,” Hogan explained.
The study highlighted potential equity issues when it comes to school fees, she added.
“Income raising is a labour-intensive process that is re-imagining the role of school staff and parents. Raising money relies on entrepreneurial principals, savvy PR staff, engaged parents and parent committees...
“This is a problem, especially when it comes to public schools.”
She pointed to research from the United States and United Kingdom that “cautions that an over-reliance on private income could lead to governments shirking some responsibility for resourcing and supporting schools”.
Hogan said: “The ongoing issue here is one of equity. When schools start relying on private funding (both fees and philanthropy) to augment how basic education services are provided, schools in most need of extra support are the least likely to be able to afford it.”
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