Twenty of Sydney's wealthiest private schools received $111 million in taxpayer funding last year, new data has revealed, allowing the institutions to subsidise plans for tennis courts, flyover theatre towers, and Olympic pools with underwater cameras.
The schools, including The King's School, Trinity Grammar and SCECGS Redlands, have offset parents investments through the public purse courtesy of an $11 million increase in combined state and federal funding since 2012, according to MySchool data.
On Friday, Fairfax Media revealed that the oldest girls school in Australia, St Catherine's in Waverley, had won a battle to build a $63 million auditorium complete with an orchestra pit, a water polo pool, and a flyover tower for state-of-the-art theatre productions.
It is one of several multi-million dollar developments underway at schools across Sydney, where five of the most expensive institutions have received more than $92 million in state and federal government funding since 2012, equivalent to the total cost of building up to three new public schools.
According to the NSW Department of Education it costs taxpayers $17,000 a year to educate the average public high school student, while taxpayers contribute about half that for each private school student. Sydney's wealthiest schools charge parents up to $30,000 a year in school fees.
North Sydney's Shore school has plans to build a new sports centre featuring strength and conditioning facilities, a 50m multipurpose pool and three indoor basketball courts, while its neighbour Redlands has pushed through plans for a $46 million development of a "state of the art" performing arts centre and rooftop pool as part of a 20-year, $104 million redevelopment plan.
Just around the harbour, Riverview is drawing up plans to construct a multi-million dollar "retail and hospitality hub", while in the inner-west Trinity Grammar is forging ahead with construction on its "Olympic pool with underwater cameras and timers" after it received $31 million in public funding since 2012.
NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge described the funding figures as a "travesty". "If parents are wondering why their child sweltered this summer in a public school class room without air conditioning then the answer is pretty obvious, it was to help some exclusive private school build its new recital hall," he said.
"It is a travesty that while some public schools struggle for basic facilities, millions of dollars of public money is subsidising the fifteenth playing field or second pool for the wealthiest private schools in the country".
It is illegal for private schools to invest recurrent funding in building works, but the public injections allow schools to produce savings in their recurrent staff budgets, and direct school fees and donations towards capital projects, where they can also receive separate dedicated capital funding from the government.
The MySchool data shows that Parramatta's King's School has spent more than $4 million in public funding on capital upgrades between 2009 and 2014, including upgrading dozens of playing fields and tennis courts, three pools and a rifle range.
Eastern suburbs institution Cranbrook directed more than $4 million in government funding to building facilities between 2009 and 2014, while its Bellevue Hill neighbour Scots College dedicated $3.8 million in public funding out of a total capital budget of $46 million to new facilities.
The CEO of the Association of Independent Schools of NSW, Geoff Newcombe, said every Australian student deserves government funding support for their education regardless of the type of school they attend.
"The existing system is an efficient use of taxpayer funds as students attending well-resourced schools attract significantly lower rates of government funding per student than if they attended a government school, sometimes as little as one-quarter of the amount of funding," he said.
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