A couple of times each year, usually in January and September, the Fairfax press in Australia makes a big deal about private school fees. Newspaper articles invariably list the schools with the highest increases in fees, note that the fee increases are greater than inflation, and point out that these schools receive government funding.
This year was no exception. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age ran articles stating that tuition fees in some private schools in Australia will next year reach $20,000. This applies to only a handful of schools, but there are a substantial number of schools with tuition fees above $15,000 a year.
This is an enormous amount of money. It is net of tax and is for tuition alone. You could reasonably add another couple of thousand dollars for building funds, school uniforms, excursions, laptop computers, and other non-optional items. As one parent put it: “It used to be that parents slaved to pay off the mortgage, but the fact is that mortgage repayments are truly petty cash alongside this stuff. With two kids costing $20,000 each and a third at $18,000 – all after tax – plus trips, books, uniforms, sports, you have to earn $140,000 before getting out of bed.”
A little background on school funding in Australia might be helpful at this point. There are two school sectors in Australia: government and non-government (private). Government schools are fully government funded and cannot charge compulsory fees.
The non-government sector consists of Catholic systemic schools and independent schools. Catholic systemic schools receive around 80 per cent of their funding from government sources and the remainder is from fees which are set by their archdiocese. Their total funding level is similar to government schools.
Independent schools receive some government funding – between 10 and 70 per cent of their