Australia: NSW State Budget brings good news for private schools

Focus: NSW State Budget 2015-16
Services: Property & projects
Industry Focus: Energy & infrastructure, Property

The NSW treasurer, Gladys Berejiklian, has just handed down the 2015-16 NSW State Budget which includes a major investment in the education sector. In this article we will focus in particular on the increased funding that has been allocated to non-government schools and how this funding can be accessed.

The NSW State Budget bears great news for private schools. The treasurer has allocated an increased $50 million over the next four years for new classrooms and facilities through the Building Grants Assistance Scheme for NSW Non-Government Schools (Scheme). This confirms the announcement made by Education Minister Andrew Piccoli last week and effectively overturns the O'Farrell Government's slashing of private school funding a few years ago.

The budget allocation represents a doubling in current government funding for non-government schools and is directed towards low and medium fee independent and Catholic schools. The aim is to assist major refurbishment in independent and Catholic schools and allow for extra classrooms. This will go some way toward meeting increased demand, with Catholic schools predicting the need to accommodate 58,000 additional students by 2031. To be able to meet this higher demand, over 130 new classrooms will have to be built each year over the next 16 years.

Is your school project eligible for funding?

To be able to access these funds, schools must be accredited and registered under the Education Act 1990 (Act). Schools will also have to be affiliated with either the NSW Catholic Block Grant Authority or the AISNW Block Grant Authority (BGA).

The funds can be used for the planning, construction, alteration, extension, renovation, relocation or upgrading of educational facilities for capital works developments for increased student enrolments and learning enrichment. The funds must be for the purpose of providing education and learning spaces registered in terms of the requirements of the Act. This includes facilities like classrooms, libraries, recreational centres, sporting facilities and student accommodation. Assistance under the Scheme is also available for the preparation of sites for building, the purchase of essential furnishings and equipment associated with the project as well as architectural, engineering and professional fees.

The funds cannot be used for religious facilities, acquisition of land, general maintenance or projects where the contract for the project's construction commenced prior to Ministerial approval.

Grants under the Scheme will only be provided for the provision of proper and adequate teaching facilities comparable in area and standard of those in government schools. Grants will also take into account the existing capital needs of schools and the ability of a school's community to meet those capital needs without government assistance.

Schools considering applying for funding under the Scheme will need to provide evidence of the condition and extent of existing facilities, curriculum requirements, current and projected enrolment as well as their financial capacity.

How is the Scheme administered and how do schools apply?

The Scheme is administered on behalf of the state government by the relevant BGA, which assesses each application for funding and makes recommendations to the Minister by 30 September each year. The Minister then advises respective BGAs of approval by January each year. Once projects are approved by the Minister, funds are paid to each BGA and the BGA administers the money to those schools with approved projects.

Funds will only be released by the BGA once it is satisfied that all documentation is finalised in relation to council approval and tender arrangements.

Further, it is important to note that if your school project satisfies the criteria under Division 3 of the State Environmental Planning Policy (Infrastructure) 2007, it will be exempt or considered a complying development. Exempt or complying development projects include new libraries or administration buildings, gyms, classrooms, childcare facilities or halls within the boundaries of an existing school. This means that if your project is exempted or compliant, you will not require development consent and the project can start as soon as funding is approved.

Where to from here

The challenge will be to ensure that non-government schools meet eligibility requirements under the Scheme when submitting applications to the BGA, as well as being informed of procurement and tender processes. Timely delivery of the project with minimal interruption to student learning is predicated on having the appropriate project delivery model and tailored project documentation which is attuned to the profile and needs of the project and its school.

It is great to see that the NSW Government has increased the funds available to non-government schools for capital works. There is no doubt that the increased funding announced today will encourage non-government schools to build and invest in their infrastructure.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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