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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2010 Week 09 Hansard (Wednesday, 25 August 2010) . . Page.. 3844 ..

in evaluating schools funding. Last financial year, the commonwealth contributed $128.8 million and the ACT government $42.7 million to the non-government sector. Additional funding of $600,000 was provided to non-government school parent groups in 2008-09 and $700,000 from the interest subsidy scheme allocated for disability access in non-government schools on a per capita basis.

The commonwealth government provides funding to private schools in a number of ways: recurrent grants, capital grants and specific program grants, for example for literacy and numeracy programs. The most controversial of these funding mechanisms is the recurrent grants to private schools and the socioeconomic status formula used to calculate the amount provided to each school. The SES formula was introduced by the Howard government in 2001. It replaced the education resource index as a means of determining the amount per student a private school would receive in direct funding from the commonwealth.

The SES formula uses ABS statistics of the socioeconomic status of a school’s students derived from the census to calculate an average SES score. Schools then receive a percentage of the average government school recurrent costs depending on their SES score. For example, a school with a high SES score of 120 will receive 26.2 per cent, while a school with a low SES score of less than 85 will receive 70 per cent of the average government school recurrent costs. The minimum grant is for SES scores over 130, receiving 13.7 per cent.

Since its introduction, the SES model has been roundly criticised by a whole range of people, experts and bodies. And yes; that includes the Australian Greens. The problems with the SES formula and the way it has been implemented include the following. The formula does not take into account private income such as endowment or donations, and appears biased towards students from country areas, leading to some wealthy city boarding schools receiving lower SES rankings. There are problems with the use of the average school recurrent costs, which relate to the amount of state government expenditure on government schools, and not the costs of actually providing education; and the percentages of the AGSRC corresponding to SES scores, so that even schools that rate highly receive considerable government funding. And there is a problem in providing that no school would be worse off under the change to the SES system, therefore maintaining the real funding levels of schools.

We also need to go to accountability and transparency. There is considerable commentary on the lack of accountability and transparency measures applicable to private schools in receipt of government funding. The OECD statistics show that Australia is near the top of countries in relation to the public funding of private schools and near the bottom in relation to accountability regimes. Only about two per cent of private schools are audited each year on their government grants.

Internationally, many countries that publicly fund private schools place considerably more conditions on the funding than Australia does. For example, in many countries—including the UK, the US, the Netherlands and Belgium—schools that receive government funding are not able to collect fees. There are also often requirements relating to admission and staff wages and conditions.

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