10 May 2017   No. 04-17 [open as pdf]

The federal budget and education: it’s definitely not Gonski

Key points about the Turnbull government school funding plan:

  •  it breaks agreements with states and ends cooperation.
  • schools won’t get to the School Resource Standard by the end of the 10 years of funding.
  • funding is again delayed – funding described as urgent in 2011.
  • Queensland state schools will receive $300 million less over 10 years than last year’s budget.
  • there will be significant conditions attached to the funding.

The federal budget delivered last night confirms that the Turnbull government will cut school funding by a lesser amount than proposed by the Abbott government in 2014: $22 billion will be cut from schools instead of $30 billion.

In the opening statement of the annual budget speech the Treasurer appeared to admit to lying to the Australian people. Most of the budget cuts from the 2014 budget failed to get through the Senate but they were carried forward in each subsequent budget. So, when Gonski campaigners were accused of misleading voters about cuts to schools funding, we actually had it exactly right. Those 2014 budget cuts are only now being reversed thanks, in part, to your good work through our national Gonski campaign. Sadly they are replaced by a new set of cuts.

Many LNP politicians who rejected visits from QTU delegations or wrote letters to constituents seeking to attack Gonski campaigners are now revealed as complicit in this attempt to hoodwink the electorate. They knew that their government intended to cut school funding they just couldn’t admit it publicly.

The budget announced last night delivers $3.2 billion less in 2017-18 and 2018-19 than has been promised through the Gonski agreements signed with states and territories. That is $3.2 billion dollars in critical funding that Gonski labelled urgent in 2011. For state schools this will mean less funding over the 10 years than would have flowed by applying the education indexation of 4.7 per cent from the current legislation to the first four years of funding already delivered.

Australian Education Union (AEU) analysis of the Turnbull school funding announcement reveals that 84 per cent of public schools around Australia will be denied access to this “school resource standard” (SRS). Thousands of public schools will continue to miss out on the money they need to support the most vulnerable students to access the full opportunity the education system can offer.

The Turnbull school funding model stretches allocations over a further 10 years and schools will still not reach the minimum level of funding identified by the Gonski report as required to achieve literacy and numeracy benchmarks in every school.

Schools have now been taunted by confusing predicted school funding allocations distributed on the same day as the federal budget was released. With no explanation as to the method of distribution, all schools can now access a predicted allocation of federal government money for 2017-18 which suggests an apparent increase. It is assumed that this increase includes the current federal funding allocated to Queensland schools through a genuine Gonski inspired model which recognises true student need: Investing for Success. Gonski funding that has flowed to Queensland schools for the past three years may now be subsumed into a less than transparent allocation process with as yet undetermined conditions.

The Turnbull model for school funding delivers an initial small increase for Queensland schools each year until 2020. These increases will be rapidly consumed by decreases each year from 2021 and will reach a decrease of $85 million in 2027 and total almost $300 million over the decade.

What then of the alleged support for Gonski announced by the Prime Minister just a week prior to this budget? Let’s be absolutely clear about one thing, the new model of school funding proposed by the Turnbull government is not Gonski. The numbers show that it does not respect the sector-blind, needs based funding model Gonski recommended and it does not deliver the money schools need now to fill the gaps in student achievement caused by disadvantage.

Potential for significant conditions attached to funding

The Turnbull government’s Quality Schools document indicates that ‘delivery of reforms will be a condition of funding for states.’ Some of the reforms referred to in the policy include:

  • Provision of advice on how Commonwealth funding should be invested to improve school and student achievement. This will include findings from David Gonski’s Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools being undertaken between now and the end of the year.
  • New increased transparency and accountability measures that support effective monitoring, reporting and application of investment.
  • Teachers ought not to be able to automatically move from one pay increment to the next without demonstration of their teaching ability and effectiveness against standards.
  • All new principals should be certified through a new national certification process and become a Certified Practising Principal.
  • Freeing up teacher registration to allow fluent language speakers to be employed as Language teachers without the requirement of a teaching degree.
  • Requiring all schools to provide parents with a literacy and numeracy report every year. 
  • Improve the national availability of data on students, schools and teachers by encouraging improved information sharing arrangements between states and the non-government sector.
Fed govt funding*
contribution to
state schools
2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024 2025 2026 2027 Total $M (2018-27)  
Aust Ed Act
(Indexation 4.7% only)
1,559 1,668 1,786 1,937 2,064 2,194 2,309 2,419 2,526 2,634 2,748 22,286
2016-17  Budget
(Indexation 3.56% + 16.9% SRS adj)
1,559 1,555 1,647 1,767 1,843 1,918 1,976 2,027 2,072 2,115 2,160 19,080
2017-18 Budget
(Indexation 3.56% + 20% SRS adj)
1,559 1,669 1,788 1,939 2,058 2,178 2,282 2,379 2,472 2,565 2,663 21,992

*indicative federal government funding to Queensland state schools $million – numbers approximate due to rounding

Outcomes for Qld# 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024 2025 2026 2027 Total $M (2018-27)
Aust Edn Act v 2016-17 Fed Budget - -113 -139 -170 -221 -276 -333 -392 -454 -519 -588 -3,206
Aust Edn Act v Turnbull model 2018-19 Fed Budget - + 1 +2 +2 -6 -16 -28 -40 -54 -69 -85 - 294

#change in federal government funding to Queensland state schools $million – numbers approximate due to rounding

TAFE funding

Despite the National Partnership on skills and training being set to expire on 30 June this year, vocational education and training was largely ignored by the Treasurer in his budget speech.

Disastrous policy settings that have seen billions squandered on unrecoverable loans to students, known as VET-FEE-HELP, has proven that the market has no place in education, especially vocational education and training.

TAFE across the nation continues to suffer losses of funding and declining student enrolments at the same time as demand for skilled workers is increasing. More and more private providers close their doors after raking in massive profits in a frenzy that lasted several years, students are being stranded with massive debt and no qualifications to show for it. The market has failed and the federal government has not addressed the problem.

Queensland stands to lose $100 million in funding if the skills and training funding arrangements are not renegotiated or renewed. With TAFE reduced to a shadow of its former presence in vocational education and training this would be a catastrophic outcome for Queensland and the economy.

The national Stop TAFE Cuts campaign will have to continue with renewed vigour and intensity to overcome the failure of the federal government to heed our warning regarding the importance of TAFE to our nation’s educational and economic future.

Early childhood education

In a last minute bid to deflect rising concern about funding for early education, the federal government announced a twelve month extension of current funding arrangements in the days before this budget was tabled. Uncertainty dominates the sector and the access of thousands of young Australians to critical early educational experiences hangs in the balance for a further year.

The AEU Protect Our Preschools campaign will continue until a new, lasting funding arrangement for early childhood education is achieved.

 Authorised by Graham Moloney, General Secretary, Queensland Teachers' Union