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Victoria's problem with funding educational success

By Kevin Donnelly - posted Thursday, 12 March 2015

It's not often that I agree with ALP education ministers but, the Victorian education minister, James Merlino, is right to equivocate on the question of whether Victoria should fully implement the Rudd/Gillard inspired Gonski school funding model (The Sunday Age, March 8).

The simple fact is that the original funding model was for a 6 year period – two years beyond the forward budget estimates. The money was never there and if you believe it was then you also believe in the tooth fairy.

Minister Merlino is also correct to acknowledge the right Catholic and independent schools have to receive government funding. It should be understood that non-government schools receive far less funding than government school students do.


Based on the most recent figures published by the Productivity Commission government school students, on average, receive $15,703 per student from state and Commonwealth governments while a student in a non-government school only receives $8,812.

Such is the imbalance that even though government schools enroll 65.1% of Australian students they receive 76.9% of available government funding.

It should be noted that the current school funding model is based on need, wealthy non-government schools receive far less than the average figure of $8,812. For example, Melbourne schools like Scotch College receives $3,085, Lauriston Girls' School $2,750 and Ruyton Girls' School $2,916 in government funding.

Instead of being a burden on governments and taxpayers the reality is that every child that attends a Catholic or an independent school saves governments, on average, approximately $6,900 per student.

Given that 35% of Australian students now attend non-government schools, with the figure rising to 50% in some areas, the saving amounts to billions each and every year with one estimate placing it at $8.9 billion annually.

This is not an insignificant amount given the dire economic conditions Australia is now facing and the fact that the Commonwealth government, that provides 73% of recurrent funding to non-government schools, is in such financial difficulties.


As proven when Catholic schools in Goulburn during the early 60s closed their doors and local government schools were overwhelmed with students, it's also the case that the state system of education would face a financial tsunami if not for the existence of non-government schools and their parents.

It also needs to be remembered that parents choosing non-government schools pay twice as, in addition to paying school fees, they also pay taxes to support a school system they don't use.

Contrary to those arguing that parents waste their money sending their children to Catholic and independent schools research proves that non-government schools, with the exception of selective government schools like Melbourne High and Sydney's James Ruse Agricultural High School, outperform government schools.

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About the Author

Dr Kevin Donnelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University and he recently co-chaired the review of the Australian national curriculum. He can be contacted at He is author of Australia’s Education Revolution: How Kevin Rudd Won and Lost the Education Wars available to purchase at

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