David Gillespie, Brisbane State High School Council Chairman (and author of Free Schools and Sweet Poison) gave a terrific interview on the 612 ABC Brisbane Breakfast program (at 2:18:50) yesterday morning. He argued State High’s over-enrollment problem is due to the education department’s failure to ensure only students living in the school catchment (or who have obtained a place via selective entry) attend the school. There are many State High students who have at one time lived in the catchment—e.g. if their parents briefly rented a property in the catchment—but no longer do so. Because State High achieves such excellent academic results, largely because it offers many places to gifted students outside the catchment, many families move into the catchment area, often temporarily, so their children can enroll by right and avoid the competitive selection process. The result is a school that has reached its capacity, with a school population of over 3,000 students.
I agree with David Gillespie that the proposed new high school at Dutton Park, which is intended to take some of the load off State High, is probably unnecessary at present. It is not justified by population growth. It would be better to fix the policy failure underlying over-enrollment at State High than to build a new high school. Indeed, Gillespie questioned whether parents would actually send their children to the new Dutton Park high school, as they are already driving past reasonably good state high schools to take their children to State High. It could end up a white elephant. I was happy to hear Gillespie’s views as I have previously questioned why the Brisbane inner city area is receiving the largest amount of state education department CAPEX (see my state budget CAPEX post and chart below).
Gillespie argues the solution is cracking down on enrollment rorting, so only children currently living in the catchment or who qualify for academic or sporting reasons can attend State High. I would suggest we instead apply economic principles. Having a large number of students wanting to attend State High shouldn’t be viewed as a problem, but as an opportunity. The state education department is missing out on an opportunity to raise revenue and to manage demand for places at the school at the same time. I expect it could raise parental contributions to State High to levels similar to private schools (e.g. $20K+ p.a. for Brisbane Grammar) for many families no longer living in the catchment. We know that parents value highly the ability to send their children to State High and this lifts house prices in the area (see my post Property market shows parents are willing to pay for high performing state schools).
Imposing additional fees on out-of-catchment students would help manage demand and could help finance the augmentation and refurbishment of infrastructure at the school. It would very likely be more efficient and cost-effective to manage the demand at State High through higher fees, possibly using some of the additional revenue to refurbish and expand some existing school facilities, than to build a new high school at Dutton Park.
To an economist, this seems like such an obvious solution, but there would no doubt be resistance to it on the grounds of fairness. I would respond that the current system is not necessarily fair. Those students lucky enough to secure a place at State High will receive a superior education to those at many other state high schools. If, as I expect, parents are willing to pay handsomely for the right to send their children to State High, why couldn’t they make an additional contribution to the cost of their children’s education, which could allow some funding to be re-directed to disadvantaged schools? Also, under the current system, taxpayers will have to fund the construction of a new high-rise high school at Dutton Park, at a likely cost of around $70-80 million (based on the budget estimate of the cost of the Fortitude Valley High School of $73 million). These funds may be better spent on poorly performing schools in outer metropolitan Brisbane or in regional Queensland.
On school funding issues, also see my posts: