Gonski 2.0 is a Fraud

The Turnbull Government’s Gonski 2.0 funding plan is a fraud. It is a fraud because it delivers much less funding to public schools and much more for private schools than Gonski 1.0. It is a fraud because public schools will remain under-funded while private schools will be well-funded. It is a fraud because there will be a massive increase in over-funding of private schools. Private schools will get a new, grander, special deal which is disguised by reducing over-funding in the most blatant cases. It is the best special deal that private schools have ever had. Gonski 2.0 is a fraud also because abandons any effort to develop a truly national school funding system while claiming to be a national approach.

Fraud 1
Gonski 2.0 reverses the funding priority of Gonksi 1.0. The funding increase for public schools is nearly 60% less than planned under Gonski 1.0 while the increase for private schools is double that planned under Gonski 1.0.

Under Gonski 1.0, funding for public schools would have increased by about $15.2 billion between 2016-17 and 2026-27 while the increase under Gonski 2.0 is only $6.4 billion [see Chart 1 below]. The funding increase for public schools under Gonski 2.0 is about $9 billion less than planned under Gonski 1.0. In contrast, the funding increase for private schools under Gonski 2.0 is $6.7 billion compared to $3.4 billion under Gonski 1.0.

The large funding increase planned for public schools under Gonski 1.0 was designed to reduce the number of under-resourced schools and to better support the vast majority of disadvantaged students. Private schools got a much smaller increase because they have fewer under-resourced schools and enrol only a small minority of disadvantaged students. Gonski 2.0 is designed more to support students from advantaged families than disadvantaged families.

Fraud 2
Gonski 2.0 is a fraud because it claims to be a fair funding system but fails to ensure that public schools will ever be funded at their Schooling Resource Standard (SRS), including base funding plus disadvantage loadings, while virtually all private schools will be funded at their SRS, close to it, or more.

Gonski 2.0 abolishes the provision in the current legislation that requires the Commonwealth to increase funding for all schools that are under their SRS by at least 4.7% a year until they reach their SRS. This requirement is replaced by a cap on Commonwealth funding of public schools at 20% of their SRS. Currently, public schools are funded by the Commonwealth at about 17% of their SRS.

The 20% cap means that the Commonwealth Government has abandoned taking on an increasing role in funding disadvantaged students, over 80% of whom attend public schools, as planned under Gonski 1.0. It is left to the States to decide whether to fund public schools to 80% of their SRS. The Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, made this very clear in his address to the National Press Club in May:

…that is a matter of policy priorities for them. If they want to pay 80 per cent of our School Resourcing Standard they can do that; if they want to instead spend some more money on police, they can do that – roads, hospitals, take your pick for State governments.

Unless the States markedly increase their funding, public schools will remain under-funded. At present, the State component of the SRS of public schools is well below the target 80% in most States. For example, it is 71% in NSW, 66% in Victoria, 72% in Queensland and South Australia, and 67% in the Northern Territory.

It is highly uncertain whether the States will ever meet the 80% target as most have neglected public schools in recent years. Between 2009-10 and 2014-15, they cut inflation-adjusted funding for public schools by an average of $732, or 6.6%, per student, but increased funding for private schools by $161 per student, or 6.9%.

Under Gonski 2.0, the States will only be required to maintain the current real level of funding per student, not increase it as planned under Gonski 1.0. Even if the States do maintain current real funding, public schools will never recover the reduction in their funding since 2009-10 or get anywhere near 100% of their SRS by 2026-27.

Without a major funding boost by State governments, government funding for public schools will be significantly below their SRS in almost every State and Territory [see Chart 2]. In contrast to the funding uncertainty facing public schools under Gonski 2.0, private schools get much greater funding certainty. Catholic and Independent schools will be at their SRS or more in nearly every State.

The likelihood is that disadvantaged public schools will remain vastly under-resourced under Gonski 2.0 and there will be little or no progress in improving outcomes for disadvantaged students. The Commonwealth has effectively abandoned the national goal of increasing equity in education.

Fraud 3
Gonski 2.0 is a fraud also because it uses the fig leaf of cleaning up the special deals for private schools in Gonksi 1.0 to disguise a new, grander, special deal. Gonski 2.0 reduces the most blatant cases of over-funding of private schools while providing for a huge increase in over-funding. The large majority of private schools will be over-funded by 2026-27.

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. This involves 407 out of 841 approved Independent school authorities (individual schools and systems). They include some very well-off schools. For example, The Hills Grammar School in Sydney with 63% of its students in the top SEA quartile will have its funding increased from 97% of its SRS to 109%.

Another 65 Independent schools and systems that are already over-funded will have their over-funding increased. They include some of the wealthiest schools in Australia. For example, SCEGGS Redlands in Sydney with 84% of its students in the top socio-educational advantage (SEA) quartile is already funded at 46% of its SRS by the NSW Government and its Commonwealth funding will be increased from 76% to 80% of its SRS under Gonski 2.0. Its total government funding will increase from 122% to 126% of its SRS. Sydney Grammar School with 98% of its students in the top SEA quartile will have its government funding increased from 123% of its SRS to 127% because its State government funding is 47% of its SRS.

In addition, 71 other Independent schools and systems that are currently over-funded by the Commonwealth Government and will have their funding reduced as a percentage of their SRS under Gonski 2.0 will remain significantly over-funded because their State government funding exceeds 20% of their SRS. For example, Loreto Kirribilli, with 80% of its students from the top SEA quartile, will still be funded at 160% of its SRS even though it is reduced from the current 277%.

It is little wonder that Independent school associations have grabbed Gonski 2.0 with both hands. The percentage of Independent schools across Australia funded above their SRS will increase from 17% to 65% [Chart 3]. Gonski 2.0 is the best special deal they have ever had.

Nearly 90% of Independent schools in the ACT will be over-funded, 83% in Western Australia, 75% in Queensland and 72% in NSW. One-third to one-half of schools in South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria will be over-funded while 56% of Northern Territory Independent schools will get more than 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. Western Australian Catholic schools will be funded by 8% more than their SRS. Catholic schools in Tasmania and Victoria will be funded at their SRS while those in the Northern Territory and South Australia will be only slightly below.

Fraud 4
A basic flaw of Gonski 2.0 is that it abandons developing a national approach to school funding, despite Government claims of a better national system. It entrenches the structural incoherence of school funding so heavily criticised in the original Gonski report. Even though David Gonski was standing next to Turnbull when he announced Gonski 2.0, the new approach openly contradicts what Gonski recommended. His report recommended 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 has locked in a system of different funding roles for public and private schools by the Commonwealth and State governments instead of developing an integrated system of government funding. There will still be nine different government systems for funding public schools and nine different government systems for funding private schools. There is a patchwork of approaches to funding government and private schools by State governments.

There are also numerous opaque systems for distributing taxpayer funds to Catholic systemic schools operated by state Catholic Education Commissions and regional dioceses. Gonski 2.0 allows this lack of transparency in the use of taxpayer funds to continue, despite a recommendation by the original Gonski report that that school systems should disclose how they allocate taxpayer funds to member schools. It said the recommendation should be written into school funding legislation. In addition, there are nearly 20 other private school systems that have their own formula for distributing government funds to their schools.

Gonski 2.0 fails to make any progress in overcoming this patchwork of different school funding systems and the lack of transparency on how private school systems allocate taxpayer funds. It will perpetuate inconsistencies and inequities in school funding. 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.

Gonski 2.0 should be rejected
Gonski 2.0 is not the fair funding system that Turnbull and Birmingham claim. It is most unfair that the large majority of disadvantaged students are very unlikely to be funded at their SRS while the vast majority of more advantaged students in Independent and Catholic schools will be funded at their SRS, close to it and above.

The Turnbull Government has washed its hands of taking any significant responsibility for improving the life opportunities of disadvantaged students in public schools. In keeping with the tradition of the Coalition in school funding, the main priority of Gonski 2.0 is to look after private schools and their more advantaged families. There will be a huge increase in the number of private schools that are over-funded, while public schools and their disadvantaged students will remain under-funded for the tasks they face. All the claims about a fairer funding system disguise the reality of what Gonski 2.0 offers private schools. Unfortunately, many commentators and organisations have been deceived by the fraud.

The Education Amendment Bill before the Parliament to implement Gonski 2.0 should be rejected. An alternative Gonski PLUS model that builds on the principles of Gonski 1.0 should be developed to integrate Commonwealth and State funding as originally recommended by the Gonski report. Ideally, this would be in conjunction with the States. Co-operative federalism is the only realistic way to develop a truly needs-based national school funding system. Otherwise, school funding will continue to be plagued by inequities and inconsistencies.

A Gonski PLUS model should deliver the large funding increase needed by disadvantaged students in public schools. It should include higher funding loadings for disadvantaged students. It should end all special deals for private schools provided under Gonski 1.0. It could be financed in large part 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.

Trevor Cobbold

An earlier version of this article is published on John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations blog

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