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Gonski in an age of budget repair

  • 24 May 2017


School funding is a very complex issue in Australia. It's now a poisonous political cocktail.

David Gonski, who had been the poster boy for Julia Gillard's bold education reforms, has now been showcased by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Education Minister Simon Birmingham announcing their new deal for school funding.

The National Catholic Education Commission, the Australian Catholic Primary Principals Association, and the Catholic Secondary Principals Association are upset with the proposed funding arrangements. This has prompted the Catholic Cabinet Minister Christopher Pyne to claim 'the Catholic education system really is running a very dishonest campaign'. The Catholic system educates 20 per cent of Australia's school children in 1737 schools.

Meanwhile Labor's Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek has highlighted that the schools to be most adversely affected by the funding changes are the Northern Territory government schools. She has called the Greens 'morons' for contemplating support for the changes. Even for Canberra, this debate has gone more pear shaped than most.

The level of consultation prior to the announced changes was appalling. But that is now water under the bridge. It's time to enunciate some clear principles. And it's time for respectful consultations to take place investigating how those principles can be best applied. This must be done within the realistic political environment where the present government is committed to delivering much less for school education than is Labor, in the name of 'budget repair'.

On the government's own figures, they would deliver $6.3 billion less to schools in the next four years and $22.3 billion less in the next ten years than would Labor. The issue of school funding as a budget priority and as an item of 'budget repair' is now a key election issue.

The Catholic Bishops Commission for Catholic Education has stated, 'As bishops, we acknowledge the difficult financial situation currently faced by the government and the nation.' While the Coalition is in government, the question is whether the available pot of money (smaller though it be) is to be equitably distributed with a proper weighting for the poor and needy, and an appropriate loading for those non-government schools whose parents cannot afford the fees of the flasher independent schools.

The government says that it is time for the Commonwealth's direct contribution to school funding to be principled and transparent, 'sector-blind' and needs-based. Following Gonski's original recommendation to the Gillard government, the Turnbull government is adopting a school resourcing standard (SRS) which is based