The Coalition Has Sabotaged Gonksi

This is a summary of an Education Policy Brief published by SOS.

The 2013 school year ended with the near-complete sabotage of Labor’s Gonski funding plan by the Coalition Government. It has sabotaged implementation of Gonski in three key ways.

First, it refused to commit to the full Federal funding increase of $10.3 billion over the next six years promised under Labor’s Better Schools plan. It only committed to Labor’s increase of $2.8 billion over four years, of which only $0.9 billion is new money. This leaves a funding shortfall of $7.5 billion, the major share of which would have gone to government schools.

Second, it will not require state and territory governments to increase their own funding as a condition of Federal funding. They will be free to decide whether to increase their funding, substitute Federal funding for their own funding or cut their funding. This threatens the loss of the small increase in Federal funding for government schools and of $5.6 billion in state and territory funding over the next six years, the very large part of which also would have gone to government schools.

Third, it will not require state and territory governments or private school systems to implement the Gonksi funding loadings for disadvantaged students. There is also no requirement that state and territory governments distribute Federal funding to disadvantaged schools according to the Gonski model.

All that is left of Gonski after this sabotage is a small net increase in Federal Government funding and implementation of the Gonski disadvantage loadings for non-systemic private schools. Almost all the possible funding loss of over $13 billion will be borne by government schools who enrol the vast majority of disadvantaged students. Moreover, there is no guarantee that the Gonski loadings will ever be fully or even partially implemented.

The outcome of the sabotage is clear: guaranteed funding increases for private schools but not for government schools. Private schools are guaranteed a funding increase under the federal legislation which will be delivered directly to schools or private school authorities. Government schools are not guaranteed any funding increase because it is being left to state and territory governments to decide. There is no guarantee that funding for disadvantaged government schools will be increased to any substantial extent.

The Government claims it is respecting states’ rights in not setting conditions for Federal funding. But, it seems that affirming states’ rights is just a convenient way to subvert Gonski. It contradicts the whole approach of the Howard Government which systematically introduced conditions for Federal education funding. It contradicts the Coalition’s approach to keep conditions for other education funding programs and in other policy areas.

The Coalition’s selective support for states’ rights undermines the key feature of the Gonski approach, increased funding for disadvantaged students which delivers much larger funding increases to government schools than to private schools.

Reducing inequity in education is simply not a priority for a government that says supporting private schools is “in our DNA” as the Prime Minister has put it. The Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, even denies that there is an equity problem in Australia despite the overwhelming evidence presented in the Gonski report and the latest international and national test results.

However, the battle for Gonski is not over. There is a window of opportunity to save the Better Schools funding model and, if possible, strengthen it. The Coalition will not be able to change the federal legislation until after 30 June when the new Senate takes its place in the Parliament and state and territory budgets will not be brought down until mid-year.

A campaign and lobbying effort directed at both the Federal and state and territory governments must be raised by public school organisations and community organisations representing disadvantaged families.

At the federal level, the campaign goal should be to stick to the National Education Reform Agreements that state and territory governments increase funding for government schools and fully implement the Gonski funding loadings. The campaign should also press for the $10.3 billion increase in Federal funding that Labor promised for the next six years.

State-based campaigns should pressure state and territory governments to increase their funding by $5.6 billion as planned under the education reform agreements and to distribute the funding to schools according to the Gonski funding model.

Abbott and Pyne want to stop an historic turn from funding school choice to reducing disadvantage in education. We must ensure that they do not succeed.

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