Next on Gonski: what will the states do?

Bendigo Weekly | Bendigo Weekly | 02-Jun-2017

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By Dale Pearce

Acting principal, Bendigo South East College

School funding is again in the headlines, which is no surprise to anyone who has followed the saga of recent years, beginning with the findings of the 2011 Gonski report. 

Australian school funding is a tangled arrangement under which all schools are publicly funded; public schools largely by state governments and non-government schools largely by the commonwealth government.

In the past 15 years we’ve witnessed a steady increase in education funding with the greatest increases going to non-government schools to promote choice.

There is no evidence that this choice or the associated competition has improved educational outcomes for students.

In fact, our performance on international tests has flatlined. At the same time we’ve developed an educational system notable for its socio-economic stratification. The Gonski panel planned to address this issue. 

It recommended that funding be pooled and provided to schools on the basis of need, with acknowledgement of the school community’s capacity to pay. 

Funding was to be sector blind, so that the needs of students would be recognised irrespective of whether they were in public, Catholic or independent schools.

States and schools have clung to the Gonski funding promises. But with current funding arrangements due to expire federal education minister Simon Birmingham developed a new plan to increase funding of non-government schools to 80 per cent of their needs-based entitlement and public schools to 20 per cent, leaving the states to look after the rest. 

In the exercise he has enlisted David Gonski to assess how new funding might best be spent. It’s come to be known as Gonski 2.0. 

Independent schools have by and large accepted the deal, acknowledging it as a practical step forward despite funding cuts to some schools. 

The Catholic system is railing against the lower rates of increase it will receive than independent schools, and to maintain its capacity to distribute funding according to its own assessment of student need.

In public schools there is a great difference between what Labor promised and what Gonski 2.0 will deliver, in some cases more than $1 million per year. 

Many also take issue with the Turnbull government’s view that it has a special responsibility for students in non-government schools. Responsibility for addressing need in public schools has been thrown to the states.

But the fiscal imbalance between commonwealth and state governments is significant; Canberra will be able to meet the needs of non-government schools but the same guarantee doesn’t exist for public schools.

Certainly not all states have pulled their weight in terms of school funding, but some may struggle to meet the new expectation the commonwealth has placed upon them with little consultation. 

Is there a more collaborative solution?

Gonski 2.0 is significant because for the first time a conservative government has adopted a funding scheme which acknowledges need. 

The framework could be built upon by a Labor government, which may give greater weight to the needs of students in public schools. 

In the meantime, the attention will switch to how state governments respond.

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