Do private education dollars count?

Blaise Joseph

15 September 2017 | Ideas@TheCentre

BJ school classroom students teacherDespite new international education data showing Australia spends more on education compared to the OECD average, some media managed to report the opposite — that we spend less.

How can this seeming mathematical magic be achieved? By sleight of hand that makes one category of funding vanish before the audience’s eyes. And it requires no rabbits and hats … just the blithe assumption that: Australia = Australian government.

Of course — and as you would expect — if we take into account both public and private money, Australia spends significantly more than the OECD average at all levels of education. This is because, in part, Australia has a relatively high proportion of students attending non-government schools compared to most other countries.

Common sense dictates that if people are spending more of their own money on education, the government should spend less, all else being equal. It’s an incredibly strange mentality to think a private dollar is somehow worth less than a public dollar.

In regards to school education, Australian school spending was 3.8% of GDP, higher than the OECD average of 3.6%. Furthermore, public spending on schooling as a percentage of total government expenditure in Australia was 9.4%, much higher than the OECD average of 8.1%. Australia’s spending in terms of money per student is also higher.

Based on this data, there is no justification for claims of widespread underfunding in Australia’s school system.

In addition, this confirms there is no clear link between school funding and student outcomes at a national level. For example, Japan outperformed Australia on all recent international literacy and numeracy tests but spent much less money.

The comparable data released by the OECD is for 2014 and is always several years delayed, so the figures do not take into account all the large increases in ‘Gonski funding’ which only began in 2014 and increased at a faster rate in subsequent years. If anything, the numbers likely understate Australia’s current level of school spending relative to the rest of the world.

This is a further indication the ‘Gonski 2.0’ school funding increases are exorbitant, and the government should reduce the excessive funding growth in future years.

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