Are Cairns schools getting a fair deal on funding?

A new online calculator showing Cairns parents how much federal funding local schools are getting appears to reveal significant disparities between the public and private sector… but all is not as it seems.

The Schools Funding Estimator, launched in conjunction with last week’s release of the 2017 Budget, was created to provide schools and parents with immediate information on how their schools would be affected by a new needs-based funding plan.

Under the plan, federal funding for Australia’s schools will grow by $18.6 billion over the next decade, with Leichhardt district schools receiving a funding increase of $510 million between 2017 and 2027.

In launching the calculator, federal MPs hailed it as an important tool that would give parents, teachers and principals the information required to make long-term plans for the future of each child and each school.

But, as TropicNow discovered during an online investigation, the numbers can be misleading – and in some cases, alarming – and people are being urged not to take the funding figures presented by the calculator at face value.


Initial comparisons between public and private schools using the calculator yielded unexpected results, with figures suggesting a veritable windfall for the private sector, with government schools seemingly lagging behind in funding.

Our number-crunching revealed some at-first-glance shockers: in one comparison between a Cairns private school with equal student numbers to a Cairns public school, the numbers revealed an almost $108 million difference in total ten-year funding in favour of the private school.

In another, TropicNow compared figures between two Cairns primary schools with equal enrolments, with calculations showing the private school would receive $20,271,200 more in total ten-year funding than the public school. The figures also suggested that the total ten-year funding increase for the private school was $2,550,200 more than for the public school.

It’s enough to make anyone question the “needs-based” billing of the funding plan. But there’s more to it than simple addition and subtraction.


The first thing parents and educators need to keep in mind is that the online calculator is providing figures on federal funding, not state.

Queensland’s public schools receive the majority (80 per cent) of their funding from the state government – with some top-ups from the federal government – while the reverse is true for private schools, which also get income from tuition fees.

The next thing to take into account is that it’s necessary to look at increases in terms of percentage, rather than face-value dollar terms.

By tackling the figures with a percentage growth calculator, a different story to the one presented by basic arithmetic emerges, showing that public schools – rather than trailing in funding – are receiving a 31 per cent increase in federal funding, while non-public schools’ funding is going up by 21 per cent.


President of the Queensland Association of School Principals, Michael Fay, told TropicNow that the calculator had some flaws.

“The funding estimator is not of great value to state schools as it does not clearly show the amount of federal funding flowing directly to state schools,” he said.

“Rather, it provides an overall estimate of the federal funding, some of which is used to support schools through the provision of the departmental structures including central office and regional offices.

“The figures online are not much help to state school leaders as they provide no certainty or quantum of what funding will ultimately flow to schools.

“The actual federal funding which is ultimately passed on, direct to state schools, has not yet been announced.

“This funding in recent years has been known as the Investing for Success funding. State schools are very hopeful this figure will be announced in the near future.”


With all of this in mind, trying to work out which school gets what can be confusing, and not just to the layperson: Queensland’s Department of Education and Training last week sent out a “special broadcast” email to public school principals in an attempt to quell confusion, noting that the figures presented by the online estimator did not represent the full picture.

Federal MP for Leichhardt Warren Entsch concurred, telling TropicNow that it was crucial for parents and schools to look at increases in percentages, rather than dollars.

Looking to see how your school fares? Follow this formula to calculate percentage increase in funding:

• Work out the difference (increase) between the two numbers you are comparing (new number minus the original number equals increase).
• Divide the increase by the original number and multiply the answer by 100. This will give you the increase per cent.
• If your answer is a negative number then this is a percentage decrease.