How the brilliant democracy sausage reveals the secrets of school funding

By Naomi Barnes

WATCH: There’s a snag in school funding.

New Education Minister Jason Clare is like any other student on their first day of school – there is a lot to learn about the problems facing the education system in Australia. But, in this case, Mr Clare can discover the answers by revisiting one of the highlights of the recent election campaign – the democracy sausage. 

Federal election day 2022 has arguably marked a new beginning for Australian federal politics and policy, and the road forward will be tough. Education is one of the portfolios that was policy-lite during the campaign, from all sides of politics. But it is through equitable education policy, that many of the key challenges facing Australians can be addressed. 

A key to understanding this is the humble democracy sausage.

The distribution and availability of a sausage on election day represents a country with the fourth most segregated schooling system and a major housing crisis connected to gentrification.

Approximately $8billion dollars in non-government or private funding flows through the school system each year. Those who receive the most are the very advantaged school and the very disadvantaged schools, probably due to targeted philanthropic donations to both. External income raising for a school is time intensive and in most public schools done by Parent and Citizen organisations. Basically, the quality of resources available to teachers is connected to parents’ inclination and willingness to donate funds, time and skills to a school. The least willing are middle income earners in gentrifying suburbs. 

The democracy sausage and volunteering

Volunteer organisations barbequing sausages on bread has become a familiar sight on election days in Australia. It has a hashtags and a hashflag (automatic emoji of a sausage on bread). Facebook community pages advertise where to find a sausage on election morning when choosing where to vote. There is even a dedicated website to tracking the availability of sausages and other stalls around the country. 

DemocracySausage.org 2022 Federal Election data suggested that 43.4% of Australian voters had access to a sausage on election day based on Australian Electoral Commission poll booth attendance statistics from the 2019 election. DemocracySausage.org’s data correlated with publicly available data about schools shows that only 46.9% of school-based polling booths provided access to a sausage.

This incorporates data from © Commonwealth of Australia (Australian Electoral Commission) 2022, DemocracySausage.org and ACARA School Profile 2021

Information on other treats provided by school-based fundraising, like whether a polling booth had a cake stall, halal or vegetarian options, or coffee, mapped against a school’s socio-economic school ranking (Index of Community Socio-educational AdvantageICSEA), reveals something Mr Clare should pay attention to. 

The provision of options outside the sausage shows there is not much difference between different school communities. However, when the percentage of booths that provided variety is mapped against the ICSEA value of the school, things look different.

This incorporates data from © Commonwealth of Australia (Australian Electoral Commission) 2022, DemocracySausage.org and ACARA School Profile 2021

Schools within the middle socio-economic range are less likely to have a P&C provide a variety of options for voters. So, what does this data mean for Education policy?

The ability to volunteer is related to demographics

That more than 50% of schools are unable able to field fundraising barbeques is a reflection of a nationwide trend in all community volunteering over the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, a two-thirds drop in people willing to volunteer was reported, with work commitments and family care being the reason for less people being willing to volunteer. 

Variety in election barbeques is directly related to the number of volunteers an organization can field. The more options, the more people are needed. This reality explains why school P&Cs in the medium-to-high ICSEA ranked areas are less likely to provide variety in their election day stalls. 

Schools in middle income areas are most likely to be schools in areas which are gentrifying. This means that the homeowners in the area are most likely to be double-income earners juggling high mortgages or rents alongside expensive child-care. They are, therefore, less likely to donate time or money to public schools. The families in these areas who earn higher incomes, and therefore have less financial and family pressure, are also more likely to bypass the local public school and enroll their children in schools in the higher ICSEA ranked areas. Those are the P&Cs they will donate to. This means that it is harder for P&Cs in the medium-ranked 50% of schools to attract donations. They are also less likely to attract the large philanthropic donations of low and high ranked schools. 

Australia’s market-driven approach to school funding means that schools are more reliant on an active Parent and Citizens Association. Parents and teachers are exhausted in at least 50% of schools. Teachers are exhausted because they are under-resourced. Parents have volunteer fatigue. The downward spiral in school-based volunteering will severely affect schools going forward. School funding, and subsequently quality, is affected by housing affordability and participation in the community. 

The market-based approach to schooling is not working in Australia and it has to change. So next time you buy a democracy sausage, remember your access to this little symbol of Australian civic duty is determined by enormous inequity in Australian schooling policy.

Dr Naomi Barnes is a network analyst and theorist interested in how ideas influence education policy. She is a senior lecturer in literacy teaching and has worked for Education Queensland as a senior writer and has worked as a secondary English, history and geography teacher in government, Catholic and independent schools.

The map in our header comes from https://democracysausage.org/federal_election_2022

Republish this article for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons licence.

5 thoughts on “How the brilliant democracy sausage reveals the secrets of school funding

  1. Professor Carol Reid says:

    This is a lovely piece of writing using the democracy sausage as a vehicle. I really enjoyed the novel approach to class analysis. I am hoping however, to see a critique of segregation based on other social relations including class to begin to unpick the connection to social cohesion, social waste, social segregation and the declining results in international tests.

  2. Naomi Barnes says:

    Thank you for engaging, Professor Reid and I appreciate the challenge. I’m not really sure how to answer except to wonder what expanding an analysis like this might look like? My literature reviewing in the field of parent responsibilisation regarding education has me thinking about how to clearly show the ripple effect of education policy on the broader community. In my dealing with active P&C members there is a real sense of segregation, frustration amongst parent communities who volunteer versus those who do not. Anxiety breaks out in conversations about who will do the sausage sizzle. The answer is always “I work so P&Cs must change the way they do things”. So these long standing on-the-ground organisations are being asked to restructure on volunteer time and effort in order to keep up with the expectations of a gentrifying demographic. In terms of international testing, if it’s in a csv file, there is always the possibility of coming up with ways to qualitatively interpret it. This is what I spend my time nutting out – how can this quant publicly available data be combined and used to demonstrate qual observations that education and sociology have been warning about for decades. If you ever want to chat about this in a more conversational forum, I would be more than happy to discuss how it could be done. Naomi

  3. Professor Carol Reid says:

    Thanks Naomi for taking the time to reply. I think I am seeking something outside of the democracy sausage and P & C area as a prompt to others as well. It is a challenge for all of us at the moment as I don’t see a lot of hope in either major parties coming to terms with such long term inequities.

  4. Naomi Barnes says:

    I suppose, considering I do social network analysis, that I believe there is some potential in looking at how social capital/behaviour is developed through access to and involvement in social relations. So instead of looking just at class membership/consciousness, etc as an indicator, we turn our attention to how opportunities to engage in social relations are affected by educational policies. The current approach to educational outcomes is so Taylor(ism)ed that finding a way to reconnect at a social level is what I would hope for. We are so networked together, yet so individualised. I think the pandemic has really put a dent in the process of accumulating social capital. Yet, the people who design the policies are embedded in very powerful networks with lots of “network literacy”.

  5. Kim says:

    I think there is also another factor at play that needs to be considered. All volunteers in schools need to be fully vaccinated, the same as all paid staff. The volunteers who might have more time because they aren’t working, may not be fully vaccinated (since they don’t need to be for work purposes). While it is difficult to know the exact numbers it is likely to be a factor in this situation as well.

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