I recently had the opportunity to present at an Education Conference at an elite private school in a leafy green suburb in Melbourne.
I’m a passionate participant in the school funding debate. I attended a Government school, my children attended government schools and I teach at a Government school. State schools are great schools. I have skin in the game.
I started my presentation with a comparison between my school and the independent school that was hosting the conference.
Obviously an affluent clientele. 91% of students from the top half of parent income. Only 1% in the bottom quarter.
Our Government School
We have many more students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Twenty percent of students from the top half of parent income. 45% in the bottom quarter.
The conference started with a Welcome to Country from a Wurundjeri elder.
The school hosting has 0% indigenous students according to the MySchool website.
The school I teach at has less non-English speaking background students and 2% Indigenous students.
When it comes to funding the difference is stark.
Parents are contributing over $26,000 a year towards their child’s education. In a business sense, this school has nearly $40 million dollars a year to run their educational program. Over 4.5 million of this is from Government funding.
Our Government school.
We do receive more government funding than the private school but have under $14 million dollars a year to run the school each year.
Looking at per-student income if both schools had the same number of students, I used 1100 students in this example, the private school would have an annual budget of $35,792,990. Our school would have $15,747,600. That is over 20 million dollars a year more than us, every year, to operate the school.
What could we do with an extra 20million dollars a year?
The first session I attended at the conference was about a literacy intervention program at a WA school. The program targeted students who were below the national benchmark on NAPLAN. They were withdrawing students from some of their regular classes and providing them with small group reading and writing interventions. They were using a commercially produced package that was “expensive” and you need to staff that program with a Literacy Specialist teacher preferably with some Primary School Training. They were having good success with the program. I did the sums. We’d need over $150,000 a year to implement this at our school. We don’t have the money.
What could we do with an extra 20 million dollars a year?
The second session was about staff development and coaching. An elite private school outlined the improvements to teaching practice they had made in the school Their staff worked with teaching and learning coaches on a regular basis to improve their classroom practice. We have a teaching and learning coaching program at our school. We invest about $50,000 a year to provide time-release for coaching. At the private school, the budget was approximately $450,000 per annum. They had a similar number of students.
What more could we do with an extra 20 million a year?
At morning tea I picked up a brochure about the school’s laptop program. It is similar to our schools. Students get a computer in Year 7 and use it until the end of year 9. They then get another one to last until the end of Year 12.
The difference was that the private school’s students are using a full size $2250 touch screen computer. Our students are using a small $550 netbook.
The private school buildings were luxurious. New buildings. Fully air-conditioned. Large classrooms. Lots of natural light, all the AV equipment you could want. Our buildings, on the other hand, are small and on a hot day can be over 35 degrees. I didn’t see the ubiquitous “This building contains asbestos” sticker on any of the entrance doors at the private school. That is what greets visitors to our school.
With an extra, 20 million dollars a year we could have the asbestos removed.
Our school has 12 portable classrooms. Some have been on the site for over 20 years. With one year of that 20 million dollars additional funding, we’d be able to build 12 permanent classrooms.
The advantage provided to students that 20 million dollars per annum provides is huge.
Private school advocates would point out that the government is providing less money per student to students at the private school than to students at the government school. The parents in this community pay taxes and some of that money should flow back to their children via school funding. But surely even the most ardent advocate of funding of private schools must admit that spending 20 million dollars a year more on one school compared to another with the same number of students should not be subsidized by the government to the tune of 4.5 million dollars.
Needs-based funding has to kick in here.
We just want to have enough money to pay for a literacy specialist to deliver a literacy program to our kids that can’t read.
And maybe have enough funds left over to remove the asbestos.