My heart bleeds for Karen Gee…

School maths causes pain – Sydney Morning Herald

The woman featured in this story is complaining about high education costs, and wishes that the government could contribute more. My heart bleeds for her – at about 5.25 litres/minute. Seriously, hasn’t she got better things to whinge about?

Let’s actually put some numbers on this, and see what exactly she’s complaining about.

Her two oldest children go to St. Ignatius’ College – a Jesuit school in Sydney. This school charges an enrolment fee of $4,000 if you get in – which is after you’ve paid a $165 application fee. Once you’ve enrolled, they charge, for senior school, between $20,440 and $21,090 – the last is in year 12, though they only offer three terms in year 12. So she’s already paying well in excess of $40,000 before we talk about the other three children, who got to an undisclosed Catholic primary school. On top of those tuition fees, there are extra fees for music tuition ($1248/annum), joining the P&F association, a “voluntary” contribution to the building fund ($1200/annum – though only $2400 for two or more boys), additional fees for electives, sport activities, stationary, uniforms, art supplies, the school year book and even the student ID. Seriously – with a $4000 enrolment fee and $20,000+ per year, you have to pay _extra_ for the ID card.

Oh, and to round it off, you can choose to donate a gift of $10 to enable the college to support various charitable works. Isn’t that nice?

No idea what Karen Gee pays to send her three remaining children to the Catholic primary school, but one that I found at random in Sydney would charge $2829/annum for the privilege, plus an additional $720/child/annum “education fee” to cover supplies, and a building levy (non voluntary, this time) of $750/family. So that’s another $5739/annum, assuming that this is typical. So Karen Gee could easily be spending in excess of $50,000 to educate her five children this year. Yep, that’s a lot on money, with more to come in the future. Of course, young Zali won’t be allowed to go to St Ignatius (what, didn’t you see the “two or more boys” bit?), but she’ll presumably go to the girl’s equivalent at similar costs.

(Oh, and that primary school will only provide receipts for fees if you pay in cash. Makes you wonder what they are trying to hide, doesn’t it?)

Ms Gee wants the government to do more to help out. So what exactly is the government doing?

Well, on average Catholic schools receive $7,685 per student per year, while government schools receive $11,874 per student per year. That’s a 2010 figure provided by the Catholic Schools NSW website, quoting the Executive Director of schools for the Diocese of Parramatta. But that same link says that the average school tuition fee per year of upper secondary is only $1986/year – or about 10% of what St Ignatius’ College charges.  So I’m not sure how relevant those figures are. But apparently the government figures make up 93% of the costs – meaning it costs about $12,750/year to educate a student in the public system – but only 17% of the cost for private students, which means private education costs $45000/year – three times as much!

Oh, and those figures were for 2010, remember? Private education got even more funding in 2011. In fact, the vast majority of federal funds go to the private education system (the numbers above are combined state and federal funds).

Ms Gee has lots of choices. She could send her children to a state school, and pay a lot less. She could send her children to a less expensive Catholic school – after all, the ones in Parramatta (which are only a few suburbs over) charge 10% of St Ignatius. But she chooses to send her two oldest children to St Ignatius. Fair enough.

But does she get value for money? Well, that’s where the MySchool website comes in handy. Looking at year 9 figures, for example, we see that St Ignatius gets a solid “middle-of-the-road” figure, compared to similar schools, with a score of 622. A nearby government school – North Sydney Boys High School, at Crows Nest – gets a score of 670 and stands out near the top of the crowd. This suggests that Ms Gee isn’t getting her moneys worth. (The finance figures shows that St Ignatius gets about twice as much money – from all sources – per student than North Sydney Boys)

The government does a lot for students. For starters, it provides high quality education, at a fraction of the cost of the private sector. It could do a better job still if it was better funded. One way it could become better funded is to not subsidise over-priced, ineffective and substandard education aimed at the economic elites, and to stop paying attention to the whines of the likes of Karen Gee.

Author: Robert Watkins

My name is Robert Watkins. I am a software developer and have been for over 20 years now. I currently work for people, but my opinions here are in no way endorsed by them (which is cool; their opinions aren’t endorsed by me either). My main professional interests are in Java development, using Agile methods, with a historical focus on building web based applications. I’m also a Mac-fan and love my iPhone, which I’m currently learning how to code for. I live and work in Brisbane, Australia, but I grew up in the Northern Territory, and still find Brisbane too cold (after 22 years here). I’m married, with two children and one cat. My politics are socialist in tendency, my religious affiliation is atheist (aka “none of the above”), my attitude is condescending and my moral standing is lying down.

5 thoughts on “My heart bleeds for Karen Gee…”

  1. Agree with you on this one. However, some schools are worth the extra for the connections, at least in the UK where the “old boy” network still exists.

    I guess St Ignatius is no Eaton, but the point is that who you mingle/grow up with (ie making connections) can provide you with invaluable links after school, especially for your first job.

    My rant on education in general is that there is a view that a good school is the best thing for your children. I see this often translated into parents can pay someone else to teach them, not just the 3Rs, but manners, good behavior, etc.

    Teaching your kids about life is a parents responsibility, going to work for long hours to earn money to put them in an expensive school, rarely see/interact with your kids, that is not IMHO what parenting is about.

  2. I have no problems with people wanting to spend money to go to elitist schools so that their kids can develop connections with children of moneyed families that will establish their futures in business for life. I fully agree that it’s an “old boy’s club” (though increasingly both age and gender neutral) and “who you know” trumps “what you know”.

    I just don’t know why we should be pumping tax dollars into supporting that. If you’re able to spend $40,000 a year sending kids to school for a mediocre education, you can scrap up the extra $4000 that is pumped in by government (in the case of St Ignatius, anyway). I certainly don’t know why you get to have your story in the paper complaining about the cost of education. What’s next – Lamborghini drivers complaining about the cost of premium unleaded petrol?

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