Gonski 2.0 Abandons Public Schools and Increases Over-Funding of Private Schools

This is a summary of the Save Our Schools submission to the Senate Committee Inquiry on the Australian Education Amendment Bill.

Save Our Schools believes that the Australian Education Amendment Bill (Gonski 2.0) should be put aside until the Commonwealth and State and Territory governments have negotiated a national agreement on school funding.

Gonski 2.0 has too many serious flaws to proceed with.

First, the cap on funding public schools to 20% of their Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) will reinforce the structural incoherence of funding responsibilities between the Commonwealth and State and Territory governments that was heavily criticised in the original report of the Gonski review of school funding. It means that the Commonwealth Government has abandoned taking on an increasing role in funding disadvantaged students, over 80% of whom attend public schools, as envisaged under Gonski 1.0.

Second, it provides funding certainty for private schools, but funding uncertainty for public schools. It fails to require State and Territory governments to increase funding per student adjusted for rising costs as a condition of Commonwealth funding.

This means that average government funding (Commonwealth and State/Territory government) for Catholic and Independent schools will be at their SRS or more in nearly every State. In contrast, average government funding for public schools will be significantly below their SRS in almost every State or Territory.

Progress toward the SRS for public schools will be largely left to the uncertainty of State and Territory government funding which has been cut for public schools in recent years. Nearly all State and Territory governments currently fund public schools significantly below 80% of their SRS. As a result, public schools are likely to remain under-resourced for the task they face in educating over 80% of disadvantaged students.

Third, while it reduces the most grotesque instances of over-funding of private schools, it will provide a huge increase in total over-funding of private schools, not less. This is because Commonwealth funding of private schools will be lifted to 80% of their SRS and many private schools are already funded at above 20% of their SRS by State and Territory governments.

As a reusult, the percentage of Independent schools funded above their SRS will increase from 17% to 65%. Many private schools in all States and Territories will have their total government funding increased to over their SRS. Many that are already over-funded with have their over-funding increased and many others will remain over-funded despite cuts or slower increases in their funding.

In addition to these flaws, the indexation arrangements will likely result in schools not being adequately funded to meet rising wages and other costs over the long term.

The Commonwealth and State and Territory governments should negotiate a Gonski PLUS national school funding plan that delivers the large funding increase needed by disadvantaged students and creates a national funding system to ensure equity in funding for all students, across all schools and all systems. It could be funded by eliminating all over-funding of private schools.

At the very least, the 20% cap on Commonwealth funding for public schools proposed by Gonski 2.0 should be rejected and the current legislative requirement for the Commonwealth to increase funding for schools resourced below their SRS by at least 4.7% per year until they reach their SRS should be retained. Additionally, the Commonwealth Government should require State and Territory governments to increase their inflation-adjusted per student funding for public schools as a condition of Commonwealth funding.

Save Our Schools supports the announced review on how school funding can be better used to improve student achievement and school performance. However, it believes the terms of reference should be extended to assessing whether the funding increase announced by the Government is sufficient to address the outstanding needs of students.

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