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Federal president of the Australian Education Union Correna Haythorpe (centre). Picture: NCA NewsWire/Martin Ollman

Union finds $30bn school infrastructure divide

A scathing report produced by the Australian Education Union (AEU) found five top private schools spent more money on capital works than governments did for 3,372 public schools, over half the public schools in the country, in 2021.

It also found private schools spent more on new buildings and infrastructure upgrades than entire public school systems did from 2012-2021.

For instance, Cranbrook School, an independent day and boarding school in Sydney, spent $63.5m in 2021 to build a new pool and upgrade their fitness and drama facilities, which is more than the entire Northern Territory and Tasmanian government's combined spend on capital works in public schools in 2021.

Famously, Scots College in Sydney recently built a mock Scottish castle for $80m, and a few years earlier, Haileybury College spent $52m on a Melbourne CBD office tower as a fourth campus.

Haileybury and another Victorian school, Caulfield Grammar, together spent more on capital works over the decade 2012-2022 than the whole Tasmanian government did in their 190 schools.

Overall, the private education sector spent $31.8bn on capital works from 2012 to 2021.

A two-year federal government scheme, where public schools could apply for funding to build structures that cost over $250k, and a one-off $215m public school upgrade program, will both end this year.

Private schools are set to receive $1bn in building funds from the federal government over the next four years.

To offset the lack of infrastructure spend, the report explained, demountable classrooms are becoming permanent in public schools, even though four out of 10 surveyed principals said they do not have enough classroom space to meet growing enrolment demands over the next three to five years.

Six states and territories met with the federal government last Friday to push for a five per cent increase in overall Commonwealth public school funding.

States and Territories currently contribute 80 per cent to fund their schools, compared to the Commonwealth's 20 per cent.

Public schools are not allowed to spend their state or territory government funding on infrastructure.

The union continues to fight for 100 per cent Schooling Resource Standard funding by 2028 to tackle decreasing education outcomes and worsening conditions for students and teachers in the public system.

"We aren’t calling for Olympic pools and polo fields," AEU president Correna Haythorpe said.

"We are calling for safe, high quality classrooms, libraries and learning spaces that enable teachers and students to do their best."

A Productivity Commission report on education also found overall funding per public school student increased 20.3 per cent between 2012-13 and 2021-22, whilst private school per student funding increased over the same period by 37 per cent.

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