It’s time to close the school funding gap



Australia is almost unique in OECD countries for the sheer scale of public money we pour into private education - a shameful fact that was again in the national news this month. It’s a perverse funding model that leaves children behind, that’s been knowingly perpetuated by the major parties, and that the Greens are fighting to unwind.

Senator for Queensland and Greens spokesperson for Schools


or the better part of the 30 years before I entered parliament I was a public school teacher. I taught all over Queensland – from the Far North to the suburbs of Brisbane.

If you teach in the public school system long enough one thing becomes abundantly clear: the funding model is broken.

Australia is almost unique in OECD countries for the sheer scale of public money we pour into private education. This creates a two-tiered system of haves and have-nots: public schools, constantly forced to do more with less; and private schools, able to charge unlimited fees while also pocketing public dollars.

It’s a system which, far from offering kids a chance at a better life, entrenches disadvantage and perpetuates generational inequality, while driving costs higher and higher for everyone.

Last week you may have seen some reporting in the Guardian that highlights just how perverse the current funding model is.

The analysis they published showed that in the decade since the Gonski Review recommendations – which were designed to close the funding gap between the public and private systems – Australian governments increased funding to private schools at twice the rate of public schools.

What this means is that between 2012 and 2021, on a real-dollar and per student basis, combined recurrent funding from Commonwealth, state and territory governments to Independent and Catholic schools increased far greater than funding to public schools.

For Independent schools the increase was 34.04%; for Catholic schools it was 31.17%. 

But spending on public schools only increased 16.92%.

This really is utterly indefensible. Gonski recommended that to close the widening inequality gap between public and private schools, extra funding should be directed to under-resourced public schools, while funding to over-resourced private institutions should be wound back.

All governments agreed to this plan. Yet the opposite has happened.

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ur deeply inequitable school system is driving teachers out of the profession, making students less engaged and lowering average performance. In the most recent data from the Programme for International Student Assessment, Australia recorded its worst results ever. For the first time, Australian students fell below the OECD average in maths, while also falling in reading and science.

The argument from private school lobbyists is that private schools relieve the burden on the public system. But the opposite is actually true. Private schools increase the burden by drawing funding away from the most disadvantaged kids to private schools that often use that money to boost their investment portfolios.

Private school lobbyists will also argue that funding private schools gives parents choice. But does it really? What kind of “choice” is there between an understaffed public school with facilities that haven’t been upgraded in decades and a private school that’s banking public and private money?

They also claim that public funding allows private schools to subsidise their own fees. Another lie; private school fees soared 50% nationally in the decade to 2020. 

Labor shares just as much responsibility as the Coalition for pushing our public schools to the brink, but they are also now in an historically unique position to fix the problem.

With Labor governments in every mainland state and territory, and a $20 billion budget surplus burning a hole in the federal government's pocket, it is entirely within Labor’s power to close the funding gap as soon as the next national funding deal, which will be negotiated early next year, kicks in.

Closing the school funding gap is one of the reasons I decided to run for elected office so we’ll be fighting tooth and nail to make sure this happens.

Our kids can’t wait any longer. 

Images: Pexels.

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