QTU President's comment: 23 June 2017

Turnbull school funding plan a farce

QTU-Gonski-Rally--kbates.jpgAt just after 2am on Friday 23 June, the Australian Parliament passed a version of the Turnbull school funding plan into law. Analysis of the complex legislation and amendments has only just begun, and much more of the nature of this legislation will be revealed in coming weeks. What we know already is that the legislation does not reflect the recommendations of the original Gonski review of school funding, or the Turnbull school funding plan announced in the federal budget in May.

Over the past 72 hours, the Turnbull government has been locked in desperate, secret back-room negotiations in a bid to hammer out a deal that would enable the Senate to support its plan.

Labor has consistently and vehemently opposed the Turnbull school funding plan.

Part way through those negotiations, it appears that the Australian Greens determined that they could not support the models and conditions being proposed, and they voted against the legislation.

Numerous cross-bench Senators, many of whom had provided commitments to the AEU that they would oppose the legislation, voted in favour of the legislation as amended in the early hours of this morning.

The Australian Education Union has led our campaign for a fair school funding model for more than a decade. Here are some of the key things they have identified about the new legislation on school funding that you should know.

  • State and territory Gonski agreements will not be honoured. This is the worst part because it means billions in vital funding that was to flow to schools in the next two years will not be delivered. Some schools will only get 10 per cent of the money they need to ensure they can keep improving teaching and learning and provide the one-on-one support children need.
  • Public and private school funding will be set at a fixed rate. Public schools everywhere except the NT will receive 20 per cent of their required funding from the federal government (set by a schooling resource standard or SRS) and private schools will receive 80 per cent. These fixed proportions were never specified in the Gonski Review and give the lie to the government’s claim that it is delivering a “needs-based” funding system. Originally, the Turnbull plan was to take ten years to get schools to the 20 per cent and 80 per cent point, but now it will take six years. The extra spending involved in reducing the timeframe is $4.9 billion over a decade.
  • State and territory governments will have to increase their funding. As part of the Gonski agreements, state and territory governments agreed to contribute one third of the funding needed to ensure public schools reached 95 per cent of the SRS in 2019 (2022 in Victoria). The Turnbull plan announced last month involved no commitment from the state and territory governments, but this has been changed in the Senate. Now states and territories will be forced to increase their spending to 75 per cent of the SRS over six years, and they face the loss of funding if they do not. Even if they do contribute their share, public schools will not reach the 95 per cent point until 2023.
  • Schools will remain woefully underfunded for students with disability. Next year the federal government will cut funding to SA, WA, the ACT, Tasmania and the NT for students with disability. This is completely unacceptable, given the high levels of unmet need in this area.

At a press conference today, Queensland Education Minister Kate Jones reported that the new school funding legislation has shifted the costs of achieving the school resource standard from the federal government, which has the greatest capacity to pay, to the state governments, which have the least capacity to pay.

The Queensland Minister has reported that early indications from her department suggest that the state would need to commit a minimum of $1 billion extra over the next five years to access $200 million from the federal government.

Let’s be absolutely clear about this. The original Gonski school funding plan required that the SRS would be achieved by the federal government contributing $2 for every $1 required from the states. The Turnbull school funding plan passed into law last night will require the states to contribute at least $5 for every $1 they receive from the federal government.

The things we do not yet know include:

  • what conditions are attached to the funding
  • what the creation of a new national school funding body means for the future
  • what the second Gonski review will mean for teachers and principals.

The QTU State Conference will consider the issue of school funding legislation at the meeting commencing on 26 June 2017.

Please check back on the QTU website and social media for updates on developments as they break.

Kevin Bates