Sunday 21 November 2010

Spending, spending, spending

Every now and then, I like to spend a bit of time trawling through a mass of government statistics in order to try and get a better understanding of where our tax dollars are going. I've got to tell you - it ain't easy. I can see why journalists prefer to get briefed by politicians and public servants, and to lap up press releases instead of trawling through the bowels of government fact sheets. It's a complete chore.

A constant refrain from the "we hate private schools" crowd is that private schools get too much money from the government. This topic always raises its head at my favourite education blog, run by Maralyn Parker.

As most funding for private schools comes from the federal government, I thought I'd start by analysing whatever numbers I could find on the DEEWR website (that stands for some enormous department that was cobbled together by Julia Gillard before she knifed Saint Kevin.

Here's my first finding - the pubes at DEEWR are absolutely amazingly good at hiding figures from the public. They squirrel things away in places where you'd never think to look. They're also very good at not providing up to date information - the latest information on capital grants to state and private schools dates from..... October 2007. Gee, I remember there being an election in December 2007, and the new government talking a lot about "openness" and so forth.

What a crock that turned out to be. Here's a tip for those that have come to hate Julia Gillard for the MySchools website (which rolls up all sorts of data on state the private schools) - Julia loves to reveal data on what other people are doing, but hates to reveal data on what she is up to.

Either that, or she's kept her public servants so busy for the last 3 years, they haven't had a chance to annually update the data once a year.

Data on state school capital grants can be found here, and private schools here.

Here's the guts of it.

In 2007, the feds handed out $107 million to 192 private schools and $189 million to 142 state schools in capital grants.

The average private school got $560,000 and the average state school got $1.3 million.

I've attempted to present the data in two graphs. The first shows the distribution of grants by size for each school type. Private schools are in blue, state in red. It's not entirely clear from this graph, as I had to truncate the horizontal axis, but private schools clearly got a lot of "small" grants, whilst some state schools got some very hefty grants - up in the $8 million range.

The next graph shows the total amount granted by grant size. When you look at the first graph, because the blue (private) lines are taller, you're probably thinking the private schools are getting all the cash. However, when you look at the graph below, you can see that massive chunks of grants are being spent at the high end - in the $2 million to $8 million range - where the state schools get the most.

This data is for NSW only by the way.

Now the "we hate private schools" brigade usually clouds the issue by announcing that great wads of cash are being thrown at "elite" private schools, and that this is "wrong".

Here's a random sample of private schools that got money, and where they are located:

  • Clancy Catholic College, West Hoxton
  • Green Valley Islamic College, Green Valley
  • Vern Barnett School for Children, Forestville
  • Qibla College, Minto
  • Sule College, Prestons
  • St Therese Primary School, Padstow Heights
  • All Saints College, Bathurst
  • James Sheahan Catholic High School, Orange
  • Mountain View Adventist College, Doonside
  • St Bishoy Coptic Ordthodox College, Mount Druitt
  • South Coast School for Children with Autism, Corrimal
  • St Paul's College, Walla Walla
  • All Saints Catholics Boys' College, Liverpool
  • St Ignatius' School, Bourke
I could go on and on. If you're interested, have a look at this spreadsheet - it lists them all.

Those suburbs and schools don't exactly sound like bastions of privilege to me.

Just out of interest, I decided to delve deeper in St Paul's College, Walla Walla - because I have no idea where Walla Walla is. It turns out it's somewhere near Albury-Wodonga.

It's a Lutheran school with 215 kids. Annual fees range from $4648 to $7300, with the average being $6053. All the numbers from here on in are 2009 numbers.

As we know how many kids are in each year thanks to the annual report, we can calculate that fee income from parents comes to $1.3 million - this is 45% of all income.

40% of their income comes from the state government and 14% from the feds. This is all in the annual report.

Those of you that remember your maths will know that if $1.3 million is 45% of their total income then 100% of their income is $2.89 million.

We can then calculate 40% of that as $1.15 million (state contribution) and $405,000 (14% federal contribution).

Dividing those numbers by 215 kids, we find that:

  • Parents chip in an average of $6,053
  • The state government chips in $5,381 per kid
  • The feds chip in $1,883 per kid
Total taxpayer contribution is $7,264.

Total of parent and taxpayer contribution is $13,453.

I've blogged on this a number of times, but in NSW in 2010/11, the average spending per state school student is a whopping $15,229.

You can calculate this yourself by simply looking at the NSW DET Fast Facts sheet.

It says that:

Total recurrent expenditure on state schools is $9.296 billion
Total capital expenditure on state schools is $1.913 billion

Add them up and you get $11.209 billion.

The fast facts sheet also says that there are 736,000 kids enrolled at state schools. If you divide $11.209 billion by 736,000, you get $15,229 per head.

Of that $15,229, the parents pay nothing - state and federal taxpayers pick up 100% of the tab. (Yes, state schools do levy additional fees, but you don't have to pay them if you don't want to).

Of course not all that $15,229 actually makes it to each and every state school - a massive amount, perhaps 30% or more, gets swallowed by the bureaucracy - allowing state schools to constantly cry poor.

Back to our Lutheran school out in the sticks. It educates kids for 12% less than the state system does ($13,453 vs $15,229), and it does that whilst getting 53% less funding from the government.

Except there's more - the figure of $15,229 is an average across the board figure for state schools. It actually costs about 25% more to educate a high school kid than a primary school kid, so the actual amount of money going into the state system per high school kid is well over $16,000.

Yet somehow, the "we hate private schools" brigade manages to ignore private schools like our Lutherans in the sticks when discussing funding (and how little these schools get in comparison to state schools), and instead wheel out the high fee "elite" schools, as if they are representative of all private schools.

What I find sickening is that the state school system is not short of money - but the state schools are. Somehow, the system manages to chew up a lazy few billion dollars per year, and at the same time, the "we hate private schools" brigade blames the private schools for the problems of the state system!



1735099 said...

"* Parents chip in an average of $6,053
* The state government chips in $5,381 per kid
* The feds chip in $1,883 per kid

Total taxpayer contribution is $7,264"
These figures are close to the mark. My calculations based on figures I had access to as a state school principal in 2004 indicated
that the mix was about 40% private funding and 60% taxpayers dollar for a typical "private" school. This means, of course, that there is no such thing as a "private" school. They're "subsidised" schools.
Which begs the question as to why these taxpayer-subsidised schools have enrolment policies that discriminate against kids with disabilities even when the parents of these kids can afford the fees.
It's also why I take savage delight in providing pro bono advocacy to parents who are game enough to take them on in the ADC.
I had a very satisfying win two weeks ago.

Skeeter said...

173, another way of looking at it would be that parents of private school students are "subsidising" state schools.
More of the private parents' taxes go to state schools than to private schools.

As well, the state is obliged to provide education for all children.
This means that the fees the parents pay to private schools, reduce the amount of tax that would otherwise be collected from state school parents.
In other words, private parents are subsidising state parents by reducing the taxes of the latter.

This has always been my view. My parents could not afford to send me to a private school, but I turned out OK.
So I have saved a lot of money by sending my kids to state schools.
I have enjoyed spending the saved money elsewhere, and my thanks go out to all the parents paying fees and taxes.

1735099 said...

"My parents could not afford to send me to a private school, but I turned out OK"
The notion that sending a child to a private school improves their life chances is an enduring myth.
I wouldn't argue the toss about cross-subsidisation across "private"-public schools - what I object to is the notion that "private" schools, especially what are known as GPS schools - can ride roughshod over human rights. They do it with monotonous regularity.

Skeeter said...

173, If you don't want to "argue the toss" about it, why have you claimed that they are "taxpayer-subsidised schools"?

1735099 said...

To state the bleeding obvious - because they are.
My argument is simply that any school prepared to accept the taxpayer's dollar has a responsibility to conform to the legislative standards set by the government elected by the taxpayer. You can't be a little bit pregnant....

Skeeter said...

173, I believe that all entities — private or state — should conform to the legislative standards set by the elected government.
The sources of the entities' incomes have no bearing on this moral requirement for conformity.

My argument is simply one of equity. The private parent chooses to pay school fees for a service that the state is obliged to provide to all children for free.
The private parents' contributions to both capital and running costs of education allow the state to meet its education obligations with significantly less taxpayers' money going to private schools than to state schools.
This subsidisation of education by the private parent thus reduces the total amount that the state must find for education. Hence lower education taxes for all taxpayers — including the state parents.
What the state pays to private schools is not a "subsidy" but a fraction of its statutory obligation to provide free education to all children.

If you wish to mount an argument about legislative standards not being met, why not do just that?
(Although, come to think of it, our host would be within his rights to ban such an OT debate. It would not really be relevant to the topic of this post.)

1735099 said...

"My argument is simply one of equity."
So is mine.
The most basic aspect of equity is access. If a student is refused enrolment, access goes out the window. Exclusive practice should never be supported by the taxpayer's dollar.
It is - and this is unfair.

Skeeter said...

Exclusive practice should never be supported by the taxpayer's dollar.
In that case, these taxpayer-funded state Selective High Schools must cause you considerable angst.

1735099 said...

Absolutely - they're an anachronism. They resemble practices followed in totalitarian states (PRC for example).