A basic flaw of Gonski 2.0 is that it abandons developing a national approach to school funding. Instead, it entrenches the structural incoherence of school funding so heavily criticised in the original Gonski report. It will only enhance inconsistencies in funding and ensure that the school funding wars between the Commonwealth and the States continue.
Gonski 2.0 locks in the system whereby the Commonwealth has primary responsibility for funding private schools and the States have primary responsibility for funding public schools. The Commonwealth will fund private schools to 80% of their Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) and fund public schools to 20% of their SRS.
The longstanding division of roles between the Commonwealth and the States for private and public schools is largely responsible for major inconsistencies in school funding, funding increases that have favoured private schools over the past two decades and the failure to adequately support disadvantaged schools and students. It is all set to continue under Gonski 2.0.
The original Gonski report was scathing about the incoherence of school funding in Australia. It criticised the imbalance between the funding responsibilities of the Commonwealth and the States that Gonski 2.0 is designed to continue.
There is a distinct lack of coordination in the way governments fund schooling, particularly in relation to directing funding to schools based on student need across jurisdictions and sectors.
There is also a significant overlap in the funding priorities of the Australian Government and State and Territory governments. The overlap leads to duplication and inefficiency, and makes it difficult for governments and policy makers to decide how best to fund the needs of school systems and schools. [xv]
Gonski 2.0 starkly contradicts the recommendation of the Gonski report for a national co-operative approach to school funding, particularly in supporting disadvantaged students. It said:
Funding arrangements for government and non-government schools must be better balanced to reflect the joint contribution of both levels of government in funding all schooling sectors. They must also be better co-ordinated so that funding effort can be maximised, particularly effort to improve the educational outcomes of disadvantaged students. [xv]
Gonski 2.0 shuns a co-operative national approach. The Minister for Education, Simon Birmingham, refused to enter into long-term consultations with the States on the future arrangements. The States were presented with a fait accompli. They were also dramatically excluded from appearing before the Senate inquiry hearing on Gonski 2.0. This is not the way to construct a national funding system.
There should be no surprise that the Coalition Government has re-affirmed its traditional role of supporting private schools. After all, as Tony Abbott says, “it’s in our DNA”. But, what is most surprising is that key members of the Gonski review panel, Ken Boston and Kathryn Greiner, are supporting Gonski 2.0 even though it openly contradicts the approach they originally supported. It is puzzling as to why they have so dramatically retreated from their earlier criticisms of the approach now adopted by Gonski 2.0.
The consequence of entrenching the structural incoherence of the school funding is greater inequity. It means that the vast majority of Independent and Catholic schools will be funded at their SRS or more while the vast majority of public schools will be funded at well below their SRS.
Gonski 2.0 will increase the funding of Catholic and Independent schools to 80% of their SRS. It ignores the fact that State and Territory government funding of many private schools already exceeds 20% of their SRS. As a result, many high SES and other private schools will have their total government funding increased to over 100% of their SRS under Gonski 2.0. There is no requirement that the States should reduce their funding of private schools to 20% of their SRS and it is unlikely that they will do so.
Nearly 50% of all Independent schools in Australia will have their funding increased from below their SRS to over 100% of their SRS under Gonski 2.0. Another 65 Independent schools and systems that are already over-funded will have their over-funding increased. In addition, while several Independent schools and systems that are currently over-funded by the Commonwealth will have their funding reduced as a percentage of their SRS under Gonski 2.0 they will remain significantly over-funded because their State government funding exceeds 20% of their SRS.
Catholic systemic schools don’t miss out either, despite their whining about some reductions in funding. Catholic systemic schools in the ACT, NSW, Queensland and Western Australia will be over-funded under Gonksi 2.0.
Gonski 2.0 is a goldmine for private schools. It is the best special deal they have ever had.
In contrast, virtually all public schools will remain under-funded even though they enrol over 80% of disadvantaged students across Australia. Under Gonski 2.0, public schools in NSW will be funded at 91% of their SRS, 86% in Victoria, 92% in Queensland and South Australia, and 87% in the Northern Territory unless there is a dramatic change in State government funding policies.
Gonski 2.0 will perpetuate inconsistencies and inequities in school funding. There will still be nine different government systems for funding public schools and nine different government systems for funding private schools. There will still be a patchwork of approaches to funding government and private schools by the States. It will perpetuate the school funding wars between the Commonwealth and the States and it will be public schools that suffer the consequences of inadequate funding.
What is needed is a Gonski PLUS model that builds on the principles of Gonski 1.0 for an integrated Commonwealth and State needs-based funding system as originally recommended by the Gonski report, but without the over-funding and special deals for private schools that were built into it. Co-operative federalism is the only realistic way to develop a truly needs-based national school funding system.