- The Guardian
- Issue #2049
Students rally. Photo: John Englart – flickr.com (CC BY-SA 2.0)
2023 is the year the Albanese government was expected to deliver on its election commitment for public schools to have a pathway to a minimum of 100 per cent of the funding they need under the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS).
Instead, education minister Jason Clare announced a review, delaying the new four-year funding round of the National School Reform Agreement (NSRA) by a year.
At the recent Australian Education Union Federal Conference, Clare reaffirmed the ALP’s promise to deliver fair funding for public schools, and committed to considering equity at every benchmark.
This will require significant changes to funding arrangements, which have entrenched and increased funding inequality for a decade.
AEU federal president Correna Haythorpe says it’s time for action. Resources delayed are resources denied.
“A promise was made to the children of Australia, which has never been delivered because the Coalition government systematically destroyed the funding architecture to deliver that promise.”
In the last four years, public schools have been underfunded by more than $6.6 billion while private schools were overfunded by more than $800 million. In 2017, the Coalition arbitrarily capped the Commonwealth contribution to public school funding by 20 per cent and made special deals with the independent and Catholic sectors.
Economist Adam Rorris says the SRS is not aspirational, but “ the minimum funding required to achieve learning outcomes.”
Exacerbating the disadvantage for public schools is the loss of a further 4 per cent in funding the states and territories can claim for capital depreciation, which means these funds are not delivered to public schools.
This trick was never applied to the private schools. “This was only done for the public schools,” Rorris says.
LISTEN TO TEACHERS
Haythorpe acknowledges there are wins already on the board for public education since the election of the new federal government.
“But the Albanese government needs to get on with the business of delivering on their election promise and fixing the funding mess left by Scott Morrison. As Professor Pasi Sahlberg says: ‘Schools cannot fix inequities in education alone. No society can be called a democracy while some social groups are discriminated against in the provision of education or … other public services.’ ”
The review and the resulting delay in the four-year funding agreement means public schools are missing out on another 12 months of fair funding, says Haythorpe.
The Coalition government’s legacy for public education was inequitable funding, increased workloads and a workforce shortage crisis, she says. The Productivity Commission’s recent report confirms that government funding to private schools per student increased at 1.7 times the rate of the public school increase per student.
“The Commonwealth now invests $16 billion a year in private schools. Calling them private when they are funded by the taxpayer to that level is, frankly, a joke,” says Haythorpe.
The problem, says Rorris, is that “we’ve spent 10 years sending money to the wrong schools”.
Public schools educate the majority of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, students recognised by the original Gonski review as needing extra funding to ensure that they reach their full potential.
The latest figures show that 41 per cent of students in public schools are in the bottom quarter of that socio-economic index, compared with 3 per cent of students in Catholic schools, and one per cent in private schools. 63 per cent of students in private schools are in the top quarter, compared to 10 per cent of public school students.
Money matters to public schools but they have been denied funding equity. It delivers extra teachers to keep class sizes smaller, it provides specialist resources for teaching and learning, and it provides extra help for students who need it. It also provides much-needed support to teachers and education support personnel, ensuring workloads can be managed and wellbeing is considered. This is essential at a time when the teacher shortage crisis is causing thousands of vacancies.
Australia has never delivered on the Gonski review’s promise of needs-based, sector-blind school funding, says Haythorpe. “Public schools are underfunded on average by $1800 per student, every year and it is our members who make up this shortfall through unsustainable workloads, unpaid additional hours, stress, and burnout,” she says.
“And it is our schools that now must wait a further 12 months while the federal government conducts a review.
“But we won’t wait. We will hit the campaign trail now, so that the federal government understands the urgency of meeting their promise.” says Haythorpe.
Jason Clare agrees that the current system is not fair. “The last decade has been a lost decade [for school funding],” he says. “It’s what comes next that matters,” he told the AEU Federal Conference.