Alister Henskens portrait
Alister Henskens portrait

Schools Funding

Mathematics notebook

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS ( Ku-ring-gai ) ( 13:02 :06 ): Five days ago, theSydney Morning Herald [SMH] claimed there was a government "funding bonanza for rich schools" and compared a private school and a public school in the Ku-ring-gai electorate in support of that contention. However, the assertion of a government‑funding bonanza for private schools is not consistent with all of the relevant facts. Despite attempts to provide a different point of view to a series of SMH articles on public funding in schools, that newspaper, disappointingly, will apparently not publish anything I have written contrary to its editorial line.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a reunion of my year from Newcastle High School. Whenever I go to these periodic get-togethers, I enjoy being reminded of the outstanding people with all types of backgrounds and personalities that I went to school with and the friendships made. My 13 years of schooling in public education enabled me to matriculate to the University of Sydney. It gave me the tools to obtain two law degrees and an economics degree, and conduct a successful legal career for 27 years. Our Premier was, like me, also exclusively educated in public schools. I will always fight for our local public schools.

However, my public school education also gave me critical skills in assessing and evaluating evidence to arrive at the truth. The recent SMH article compared two outstanding schools in Ku-ring-gai—Turramurra High School and Knox Grammar School. Knox is more than twice the size of Turramurra High, and is a combined primary and secondary school now including Wahroonga Preparatory School. It is important to understand that comparing the total government expenditure on Knox—2,890 students—with the total expenditure on secondary school only Turramurra High—1,243 students—as the SMH did, requires caution.

As the article made clear, public high schools are funded by all levels of government to the tune of approximately $20,281 per student on average. Knox, according to the latest My School figures, was funded last year by all levels of government in the sum of $3,418 per student. Abbotsleigh, Pymble Ladies College, Ravenswood and Barker in my electorate receive similar per student funding to Knox.

Turramurra High School students therefore received $16,863 per student per year more in recurrent public funding than Knox Grammar School students received. As there was less than $7,500 of government capital expenditure at Knox Grammar School , Turramurra High School also had much more substantial government capital expenditure last year of about $142,000. Turramurra High School has seen about $2.5 million in government capital work s expenditure since 2011 .

The continual focus on the money spent on private school facilities indirectly talks down our public schools. It wrongly creates a perception that facilities are the most important part of a good educational environment. This in turn can have the effect of encouraging a flight of students from public to private schools, further weakening our public system. As a consequence, it takes the focus off what is happening in our public schools and the outstanding education that schools su ch as Turramurra High School provide. I have frequently been able to observe the great work of that sc hool's teachers under the first- class leadership of its Principal, Stephanie McConnell. Would public schools really be better off if all children were in the public system and private schools were banned, as was recently argued in a Sydney Morning Herald opinion piece by Elizabeth Farrelly, or should governments stop spending taxpayer s' money on private schools?

Philosophically, there is an important questi on of individual choice involved with independent schools. Why is it okay for parents to spend their money in whatever way they want , including on undesirable things, but , according to the critics of private education, under no circumstances are they to sp end money on their children's education? Many parents of private students struggle to pay school fees. Increases in the cost of private education as public funding is reduced or taken away are likely to force at least some parents to move their ch i ldren fr om the private to the public system, which will have adverse consequences for taxpayer s and public schools.

As an extreme example, if all of the parents of the 2 , 890 students at Knox Grammar School and Wahroonga Prep aratory School decided tomorrow to enrol their children in a public school, as is their legal right, it would cost the S tate and F ederal governments a breathtaking $48.7 million extra in taxpayer s ' money annually to educate them. That is in addition to the approximately $9.8 million that the school received, in the main, from the Federal G overnment last year. It also does not include the millions of dollars in the capital cost of building the public school space in which to house these additional students if they were to migrate to the pub lic system.

Bemoaning the $3,418 per student government funding provided to Knox Grammar Schoo l, without acknowledging the much higher $20,281 per student government funding to public high schools , misses the point. Private school taxpaying parents are sav ing the G overnment , and therefore all taxpayers , large amounts of money each year. It is overwhelmingly private school parents, not the G overnment, who are purchasing through their school fe es the facilities that those schools provide. The Sydney Morning H erald should stop wrongly disparaging them because the exercise of the parents' independent choice is also indirectly financially supporting public education.