Parents pay for capital funding. Opinion piece submitted to The

Parents pay for Independent School facilities
Comparisons of capital investment between schools sectors do not distract
from the fact that parents provide the bulk of funding to build, equip and
maintain independent schools. Parental contribution is the main source of
capital investment in the independent schools sector, and the government’s
financial contribution to capital is directed on a basis of need.
Adam Rorris’ article (Canberra Times 24 June 2008) and the report he
authored Rebuilding Public Schools: Investment Targets for 2020, comparing
capital investment across school sectors naturally lends itself to a focus on
government schools given that it was research commissioned by the
Australian Education Union. Yet missing from this analysis was any disclosure
of the source of this capital investment.
Within the independent sector nationally, parental and community
contributions represents approximately eighty-seven percent of total capital
spending, while the remaining investment comes from federal and state or
territory government sources. Parents pay for the majority of investment in
capital development in independent schools through fees, donations to school
building funds, and other fundraising activities.
The capital grants provided by the Australian Government are targeted on a
needs basis, with priority given to disadvantaged school communities with the
least capacity to raise funds. According to the most recent data in 2005,
ninety percent of the total capital funding available to independent schools
was directed to schools with a student community with the lowest socio–
economic backgrounds.
Many long-established independent schools across Australia with higher SES
scores do not receive capital grants from governments. The extent and quality
of their facilities reflect instead generations of contribution from families,
former students and other private contributions.
This funding breakdown reveals that comparing the levels of capital funding
between school sectors is a comparison between apples and oranges. The
level of government-dominated capital investment in public schools as
opposed to the predominantly parental capital spending in non-government
schools is not a comparison of like for like. Such analysis is an ill-fitting
comparison of government grants versus parents’ school fees and any
difference in investment levels is a reflection of what governments and private
sources are prepared to contribute to school facilities.
Certainly the comparison of capital investment is not an accurate proxy for the
levels of government support that individual Territory government, Catholic
systemic or Independent schools receive. In terms of recurrent funding the
latest available figures show that in the ACT in 2005-06, governments’
spending -- Territory and Federal combined -- was $13,165 per Territory
government school student. The comparable figure per non-government
school was $5,594 – a difference of $7,571. ACT non-government students
receive the lowest per capita funding in the country from the Australian
Government and the ACT Government is the third-lowest investor of nongovernment education of any state or territory.
It is important to note that parents of independent school children contribute to
public savings that would otherwise need to be spent if their children were in
government schools. Parents of ACT non-government students save the
Territory Government over $260 million a year. As of February 2008, fortytwo percent of ACT students in Kindergarten – Year 12 attended nongovernment schools – the highest level in the country and nearly ten percent
above the national average. Between 2004-2008 total ACT independent
school enrolments rose by 1226 students – some eleven percent.
The comparative standard of school buildings has been used to characterise
differences between school sectors. Yet how does this apply to some ACT
independent schools that today operate on lands that were formerly
government schools? Independent schools teach in the same buildings that
were previously available to government school students. These schools
demonstrate that the diversity of the independent schools sector significantly
limit the applicability of characterisations based solely on capital investment
The state of facilities is one of many factors that parents consider when
deciding at which school they want to educate their child. It is easy to forget
that facilities alone do not make a school, nor do they guarantee or ensure
quality educational outcomes. Students, parents, staff and communities make
a school and when reference is made to schools funding policy, it is important
to remember that it is parents of independent schools – Canberra parents –
who contribute the majority of revenue that funds all aspects of their children’s
Jeremy Irvine
Executive Director
Association of Independent Schools of the ACT