These schools won money for much-needed upgrades. But the funding could run out

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Six of the 28 projects funded under the private schools program were worth more than $4 million and included the construction of new campuses, digital technology studios, car park extensions, a two-storey “creativity hub” and landscaping.

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Education economist Adam Rorris said the federal government had made the right decision to recommit to public school capital funding after previous governments had stepped away, but it still fell “way short” of what was needed.

He said private school capital spending was up to four times greater than public funding, and big private schools often used government funding as a “top-up” to their own funds.

“There is a massive inequity between public schools and private schools in the quality of the facilities,” Rorris said. “And it does not meet any standard of fairness to continue to fund so lavishly, capital spending for the private schools that already have facilities well beyond what public schools have.”

Research shows school infrastructure is important for student outcomes, as principals at public schools across the country speak of struggles to fund basics such as working toilets and air-conditioning.

The federal government’s one-off $275 million Schools Upgrade Fund for public schools was initiated after COVID-19, after the previous Coalition government axed the original fund in 2017.

Catholic and independent schools have long had access to a separate annual capital fund, worth about the same amount for half the number of schools.

It is mostly designed to help schools build infrastructure for disadvantaged students, but since 2019, more than $40 million has instead been funnelled to the wealthier private schools.

Earlier this year, school financial data revealed five of the richest private schools in Victoria and NSW spent more on new facilities than governments spent on capital works in half the public schools in Australia.

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Public schools across the country are also shortchanged by billions of dollars in direct student funding every year, while private schools continue to get more than their share of the Gonski resourcing standards designed to fund schools according to need.

Federal Education Minister Jason Clare, who has vowed to fix public school funding, said the one-off capital fund was “another important step in building a better and fairer education system”.

Victorian Education Minister Ben Carroll said the state had invested billions of dollars in upgrading thousands of schools, and it was “great” Canberra was doing the same.

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When the nation’s education ministers meet this month, five states and territories including NSW, Victoria and Queensland, are expected to continue their push for the Commonwealth to lift its share of overall public student funding by 5 per cent.

The Australian Education Union wants an injection of $1.25 billion into public school infrastructure, as well as an ongoing fund for the sector.

A spokesperson for the federal Education Department said on Tuesday no decisions had been made on future capital funding.

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