Private financing in urban public schools: inequalities in a stratified education marketplace

Abstract

This study examines inequalities of school funding as exclusively generated by the parent community in urban public schools, and potentially illuminates a secondary impact of between-school segregation. For schools that are largely understood as free, the substantial injections of private financing into public schools indicate a concerning tension for fairness and equity. Using a census dataset of all public schools in one Australian capital city (n = 150), we compare reported parent ‘contributions, fees and charges’ and how they are patterned by measures of school disadvantage and advantage. We found a statistically significant relationship between private financing and measures of school-based advantage or disadvantage, over a four-year period. Advantaged schools generate up to six times greater income in comparison to disadvantaged schools over a four-year period, and we argue that the substantial gaps function as another form of ‘compounded disadvantage’ for residualised public schools and a tiered effect of segregation.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We will refer to the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage as ICSEA and this measure will be explained in further depth forthcoming.

  2. 2.

    See: https://myschool.edu.au/. The MySchool website is authored, designed and maintained by the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).

  3. 3.

    See: http://www.education.vic.gov.au/Pages/default.aspx.

  4. 4.

    We utilise the exact wording employed by the MySchool website to report these data.

  5. 5.

    The authors cannot verify whether the data as reported on the MySchool website are consistently accurate. Whilst some data are questionable, we are nevertheless confident about the data as a whole, especially since we are comparing data in the aggregate rather than between individual schools, and basing comparisons on 4-year averages rather than single years. The financial data reported on MySchool are provided by a credentialed and reputable accounting firm, and reportedly checked for accuracy by ACARA. It is also subject to accountability processes because the data are reported to government ministers.

  6. 6.

    A small proportion of schools (14%) reported $0 in parent contributions in 2014. We found this dubious, especially since it only appeared in 2014, and occurred across the entire range of school socio-educational advantage and was not limited to schools with low ICSEA values. Because we were not confident about these data, we entered “NA” instead of $0 for these 21 schools in 2014. We are not overly concerned about this operation since we calculate averages over four years, thus reducing the impact of these data anomaly.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge the work of Diana Langmead, a brilliant research assistant. We acknowledge funding we received for this study from Research for Educational Impact (REDI), Deakin University. The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful reviews, which helped in strengthening this paper.

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Correspondence to Emma Rowe.

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Rowe, E., Perry, L.B. Private financing in urban public schools: inequalities in a stratified education marketplace. Aust. Educ. Res. 47, 19–37 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13384-019-00328-0

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Keywords

  • Segregation
  • Public schools
  • Socioeconomic status (SES)
  • Parent contribution
  • Parent fees
  • Fundraising