School Kids Bonus is Money for Anything But Education

The Government’s new school kids bonus grant to families to replace the tax rebate on education expenses is an education payment in name only. There is no requirement that it be spent on education-related expenses. It can be spent on anything. It could all be put into poker machines for all we know.

It will have no impact on student outcomes. The Government might just as well drop the money from a helicopter for all the impact it will have on education.

It is an appalling waste of a huge amount of money. It is estimated to cost $1.2 billion a year. It would be much better spent directly on schools to improve education outcomes for disadvantaged students.

We have just had a major inquiry into school funding which has recommended an additional $5 billion a year in government funding for schools to reduce the massive achievement gap in the school results of rich and poor.

The Gonski report, and much other research, shows that low SES students are two to three years behind their high SES peers at age 15. The gap between students in high SES and low SES schools is even larger – three to four years. Some 22 to 28% of low SES students do not achieve international proficiency standards in reading, mathematics and science compared to only 4-5% of high SES students.

The report says that reducing these gaps is a fundamental challenge facing Australia’s education system.

However, the Gillard Government has refused to commit to implementing the Gonski recommendation. It has delayed responding to the report and embarked on more community consultation after an 18-month inquiry and some 7000 submissions from the community. It is farcical.

The Government has refused to commit any additional funding to disadvantaged students and schools, even in principle. It has turned its back on disadvantaged students and schools. It has turned its back on improving their results. Instead, it has gone for the voter’s hip-pocket nerve.

The Government intends to rush the legislation on this new payment to families through the Parliament this week. Its rush stands in stark contrast to its delaying tactic on the Gonksi report. It can only be seen as a desperate attempt to buy votes. It speaks volumes about this Government’s policy priorities.

No doubt many families are experiencing financial stress and the payment will be a welcome respite. However, welfare payments should be handled through the welfare system and not dressed up as an education initiative. Moreover, it is not just for those in most need. Families with incomes of up to $150,000 will also receive these benefits.

The funding for this new payment would be better used as a down-payment on the Gonski recommendation. It would provide over one-fifth of the additional funding recommended by Gonski.

Even many of those who are struggling financially would prefer it to be spent on making a difference for their children’s education. It would deliver much more if spent on lifting the education outcomes of disadvantaged students and schools.

Trevor Cobbold

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