Global School Funding Debates and Reforms
- Elisa Di GregorioElisa Di GregorioMelbourne Graduate School of Education, The University of Melbourne
- and Glenn C. SavageGlenn C. SavageGraduate School of Education, University of Western Australia
In recent decades, important changes have taken place in terms of how governments debate, manage, and allocate funding for schools. These changes have been strongly influenced by a diversification of actors contributing to the school funding. For example, although governments continue to provide the majority of funding resources for schools across member nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), many nations have witnessed an increased presence of nongovernment actors, such as philanthropies and corporations, in contributing to the funding of both government and nongovernment schools. Many nations have also seen increases in private parental contributions, which has contributed to the expansion of private schooling relative to traditional public schooling.
Despite significant diversity in funding models across OECD nations, debates about funding are increasingly informed by a transnational field of policy ideas, practices, and evidence. The OECD has been a central force in facilitating this “global conversation” about the complexity of school funding trends and impacts, particularly in relation to the impacts of funding on student achievement and equity. A key question in these evolving debates is whether “more money” alone will improve outcomes or whether the focus needs to shift more toward “what schools do” with money (i.e., a “what works” approach). In response to this question, the OECD has played a leading role in steering global debates away from a historically dominant focus on whether more funding makes a difference or not to student achievement, toward a different narrative that suggests the amount of money only matters up to a certain point, and that what matters most beyond that is what systems and schools do with money. At the same time, the OECD has been central to producing a rearticulated “numbers-driven” understanding of equity, which understands equity primarily in terms of the relationship between a young person’s background and his or her performance on PISA, and which frames equity as primarily important from an economic perspective.
Importantly, however, while schooling funding reforms are increasingly informed by global conversations, policy reforms remain locally negotiated. Recent Australian school funding reforms illustrate this well. Over the past decade, two prominent federal school funding reviews have sought to address funding issues in Australia’s federal system. These reports have been deeply shaped by the distinctive conditions of possibility of Australian federalism, but at the same time have been heavily informed by broader transnational reform narratives and the work of the OECD specifically. Yet while both reviews position the OECD at the center of their respective rationales, each does so in different ways that speak to different policy problems. An exploration of the Australian case and how it relates to broader global conversations about school funding offers important insights into how policies are simultaneously globally and locally negotiated.