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Executive Director of the Queensland Catholic Education Commission Dr Lee-Anne Perry AM says we need to rethink the way socio-economic status is determined when calculating school funding.
A lot has been said and written over the last year about funding of non-government schools, particularly Catholic schools. Unfortunately, the ghosts of past sectarianism have raised their ugly heads and the debate has spawned a lot of comment proffering superficially attractive solutions to what are extremely complex issues.
Most recently the focus has been on the National Schools Resourcing Board review of the use of the socio-economic status (SES) methodology, the most influential and significant component of the funding model.
For non-government schools, the SES is critical because it is used to determine how much funding they attract based on an assessment of what families at a school can afford to contribute to their children’s education and accordingly how much funding the government will contribute.
There are many ways the SES could be improved. Under the current model, judgements about what families can afford to contribute are made using broad statistical data. If you’re living in a particular statistical area the Government assumes you have the average income for that area.
A system that relies on the actual incomes of families in a school, as well as assessing other direct measures such as private income from all sources, would provide a fairer basis for determining what capacity families have to contribute to the cost of education.
Recently, it has been suggested that a move away from the current model and its heavy reliance on the SES, will have significant negative impacts on some schools. Such comments conspicuously fail to consider what is in the bests interests of our education system overall and the many young people and families who rely upon it. Instead they focus on individual interests.
The current model applies a simple approach to a complex issue and it leads to incorrect assumptions and inherent unfairness in school funding. The National Schools Resourcing Board has been tasked with reviewing this complex area and providing independent advice to Government. We need to allow the Board to do its work.
There are some loud opponents of any change to the SES methodology concerned that it might see a shift in funds from the wealthiest school communities to those less well-off.
Both they and the Government need to reflect on the accuracy that comes from using real rather than assumed data.
The Government won’t pay you a social security benefit just because there are a lot of other people in your postcode receiving one. It relies on exact information about your specific circumstances. Why should the Government not also rely on specific information about school communities in calculating funding?
The opponents of a fairer SES model for school funding have so far not been able to explain why a more detailed examination of individual school communities’ capacity to pay would be a bad thing.
A fairer SES would deliver a just outcome for all schools, wherever they are and to whatever sector they belong.