Labor has demanded the federal government examine the amount of taxpayer funding being handed over to a group of extremist Christian schools after Fairfax Media revealed they were receiving record levels of public money despite benefiting from millions of dollars in tax-free private donations.
It can now be revealed that five more campuses of the Exclusive Brethren Christian Church around Australia are receiving more public funding per student than up to a thousand of the nation's public schools.
In total, up to $26.6 million in state and federal funding is going to the church's six campuses each year.
The sect's leader, Bruce "The Elect" Hales, has told his followers to maintain an "utter hatred" of the outside world, banned students from physically attending university, preached homophobia and advised one follower to kill himself with arsenic rather than communicate with his ostracised parents.
Along with its Oatlands campus in NSW, the church's schools in Western Australia, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Queensland are all benefiting from tens of millions of dollars in tax free "gifts" from Brethren families per year.
Despite being barred from voting, Brethren families have also donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in secret donations to the Liberal Party, with up to $67,000 being donated on the same day in December 2010, according to documents tabled at the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption.
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Federal Labor's education spokeswoman Kate Ellis said there were "sharp questions which needed to be answered".
"It's simply not acceptable that the Federal Department couldn't explain what is happening here," she said.
"There also needs to be an account of whether the school is meeting all of the required standards in respect to the curriculum and broader student wellbeing."
The federal Department of Education defended the current funding levels to the network of schools, which have been rebranded as part of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church.
It said the donation revenue of the schools, up to three times what they charge in fees, "fails as a measure" in establishing public funding levels.
"Under the current funding arrangements for non-government schools, the base funding amount is discounted by a school community's anticipated 'capacity to contribute' which is determined by the school's SES score," it said in a statement.
A school's SES score is made up of the number of students from a lower socioeconomic background, who have a disability, are of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background, have a low English proficiency, and the school's size or location.
But MySchool data for all four campuses reveals the Brethren schools are of above average socio-economic backgrounds, have no students of Aboriginal descent or children from non-English speaking backgrounds.
The level of donations, combined with the millions in taxpayer funding being delivered, has meant that students at the schools who are banned from eating with "worldly people", are funded at $24,000 per student, with up to half of that coming from the public purse.
Comprehensive public schools such as Southern Cross School in Ballina - which has a significantly lower SES rating compared to all the Brethren campuses, 500 more students and a 17 per cent indigenous population - receive the highest levels of public funding of up to $20,000 a year per student.
The north coast school has one-fourhundredth of the level of private donations of one Brethren campus in Sydney's west.
On Friday, Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said the distribution of funding was the responsibility of the states but that he was determined to ensure probity in the use of federal funds.
"[We] have demonstrated our determination to do so with strong action against those schools where we believe funds to have been misused," he said.
In a statement this week the church said it has never accepted donations in lieu of school fees and that comparing private school funding with public school funding was "misleading and irrelevant".
"The way government schools and non-government schools are funded is quite different and can't be compared," the church said.
It added the non-brethren teachers at the schools do not "preach" anything.
"The curriculum taught is set by the relevant state education authorities and the schools are regularly inspected by education departments."