Government announces long-range school funding plan

Former businessman David Gonski’s 2011 report into school needs under the Gillard Government had its critics within the Coalition.

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So it was with some surprise that flanking Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the unveiling of his education vision six years later was David Gonski himself.

Malcolm Turnbull says his education plan is about making the system fairer and more consistent and boosting education standards.

“The performance of Australian students in reading, science and maths, in particular, has been falling. Now today’s announcement is about turning those results around. By increasing the investment and ensuring fairness in the way Australian schools are funded, we will get Australian students back to the top of the class. This investment will set Australian children on the path to academic excellence and success in their future lives.”

The plan includes additional support for students from low socio-economic backgrounds, those with a disability and those from non-English-speaking backgrounds.

It also includes extra support for smaller rural and regional remote schools.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham says the national needs-based funding model will get rid of multiple school funding agreements struck under the Labor Government.

“Funding that will grow from $17.5 billion this year in 2017 to $22.1 billion by 2021, growing through to $30.6 billion by 2027. It is a 10-year reform agenda that ensures ongoing, consistent, real growth in funding for Australia schools above inflation, above wages growth, providing additional resources so that schools can provide what they need to support their children.”

David Gonski, now commissioned to conduct another schools review, has welcomed the Government’s commitment to needs-based funding and the new money.

“Because I believe that we can do good things with the additional money, and I’m very pleased that there is substantial additional money, even over indexation and in the foreseeable future.”

But the Opposition has described the announcement as an act of what it calls “political bastardry” on schoolchildren, parents and teachers.

Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek says, on closer examination, the plan actually amounts to a funding cut of about $22 billion.

“It is extraordinary that, after years of waiting, after months of uncertainty, after states and territories have been pleading with the Federal Government for certainty, after Catholic and independent schools have said they need certainty for next year, what we get today is a smoke and mirrors, pea and thimble effort to hide the fact that, instead of cutting $30 billion from schools over the decade, this Government will cut $22 billion from schools over the decade.”

The states have offered a mixed response to the announcement.

While welcoming the 10-year vision, New South Wales education minister Rob Stokes says he has more immediate concerns.

“My focus is on the operational concerns for school communities today as they plan their budgets for next year. What every principal across New South Wales needs to understand now is what this means, what this funding announcement means, as they prepare their budgets for next year, in terms of preparing their staffing levels, in planning for expansion of their schools, in planning for the needs of their students. They require the clarity to finalise their budgets.”

The Australian Education Union says schools will be hit with a $3.8 billion cut in the next two years despite the Federal Government’s plans to restart the Gonski model.