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Studies say increased funding benefits disadvantaged students

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Riddle me this: at a time when governments both state and federal have a preoccupation with education and an era where the testing of student performance has never been more thorough why are NAPLAN scores going nowhere?

According to a recent paper from Save our Schools the problem lies not in the funding but where it is going.

The report says; “The claims that school funding increases in Australia have failed to improve results are highly misleading. The increase in funding per student for all schools over the last six years for which figures are available was only 2.8% after adjusting for rising costs. This funding increase was not directed to those most in need. Private schools had their funding increased by 13% while funding for public schools was cut by 1%, even though they enrol 80–85% of all disadvantaged students.”

There have been seven new reports from the US and UK that back up the contention that funding does increase the results of the disadvantaged.

According to a study published in The Journal of the European Economic Association in November large effects of increased spending were found in urban primary schools on the results of national tests at the end of Year 6. The increase in expenditure was over the preceding year levels (up to four) before the tests. It found that a 30% increase in mean expenditure of £1,000 per year (a 30% increase) raised achievement by around 0.3–0.35 of a standard deviation, which is roughly equivalent to about a year of learning.

They found effects were even bigger in schools that have higher proportions of disadvantaged students. Expenditure increases had much stronger effects in schools with high proportions of students eligible for free meals, higher proportions of non-white students, lower than average mean prior achievement, and where a high proportion come from neighbourhoods with a high index of deprivation. In these demographically disadvantaged schools, £1,000 more expenditure was associated with an increase of 0.43–0.5 of a standard deviation in test scores which equates to well over a year of learning at the end of primary school.

In a California study it was found that a $1,000 increase (about 10%) in district per-student funding by the state in grades 10–12 led to a 5.3 percentage-point increase in high school graduation rates among all students. The same increase resulted in a 6.1 percentage-point increase for low income students, a 5.3 percentage-point increase for Black students, 4.2 percentage-point increase for non-Hispanic White students, and a 4.5 percentage-point increase for Hispanic students.

A study of the New York State education system published in Education Economics in February found that increases in school expenditures reduced dropout rates from high school in New York State. It said that “a percentage increase in expenditure per student will result in a decrease of around 0.23% in the 12th grade dropout rate. Given that the average dropout rate for the 12th grade is 4%, this result suggests that an 8% increase in school expenditures could reduce the dropout rate by half.”

Granted these are not Australian figures, but it’s not too much of a stretch to say that we share more commonalities than differences with these systems. Save our Schools contend that money is not being spent in the right place and they could be correct.

Their report says that; “First, after adjusting for rising costs, the increase in government funding from all sources (Commonwealth & State/Territory) for all schools between 2009–10 and 2015–16 was very small – it was only $329 per student across all schools, that is, just over $50 per student per year. The percentage increase over the six years was only 2.8%. Such a small funding increase is far short of what is needed to improve results for disadvantaged students.

“Second, the increase in inflation-adjusted funding was confined to private schools which enrol only 15–20% of disadvantaged students. Government funding for private schools increased by $1,165 per student (13%) and was cut by $88 per student (-1%) in public schools. Yet, 80–85% of disadvantaged students are enrolled in public schools. In other words, real funding increases over recent years went to the school sectors with the least need while the sector most in need was denied any real funding increase.”

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