President's comment 3 May 2017

Gonski 2.0 – the unkindest cut of all

pres1.jpgDon’t dispose of your green Gonski t-shirts just yet – the federal government’s new school funding proposals have been revealed as little more than a “smoke and mirrors” tactic to hide their cuts to school funding.

Announced yesterday afternoon with no reference to the hundreds of thousands of teachers, principals, parents and community members who have campaigned tirelessly for the full Gonski promised in the 2014 federal election, or even the state and territory governments who are responsible for schools, Prime Minister Turnbull’s proposals reveal a frightening new plan for schools funding.

In return for hundreds of millions of dollars less, the federal coalition government wants to perpetrate attacks on the teaching profession on a scale last seen under the Queensland LNP government led by Campbell Newman: NAPLAN tests for every year level; annual literacy and numeracy reporting requirements; performance pay for teachers (including student results); a year 1 phonics test; contracts and performance pay for principals; and more Independent Public Schools.

Acceptance of these “reforms” (first mooted in the 2016 Liberal Party election policy Quality Schools, Quality Outcomes) and any additional initiatives determined through the new Gonski review will be a prerequisite for any funding to flow to the states (Factsheet: Funding will be tied to reforms). Fortunately, the current federal government would need to amend legislation, a proposal currently opposed by the majority in the Senate, before the Turnbull model can be implemented.

Turnbull headlined yesterday’s announcement by claiming he was providing a 75 per cent increase in school funding over a decade. Governments at all levels regularly claim record spending on education in the annual budget announcement, and unfortunately, this is just another example of such hyperbole. The cost of schooling goes up annually by almost 5 per cent. Based on these increased costs alone, education funding would need to rise by about 67 per cent cumulatively over the next decade, suddenly making a 75 per cent increase look far less generous!

While the plan does reduce the $3.2 billion cuts to school funding in the Coalition’s 2014 Federal Budget by fixing indexation of schools funding at 3.56 per cent rather than at the rate of inflation, and returns more to schools through an increased adjustment to the minimum resource standard proposed in the Gonski Report, state government analysis of the funding data provided by the federal government reveals that Queensland will lose $300 million over the decade of the proposed model.

Federal government figures show that Queensland needs to receive $109 million extra for 2018, just to cover cost increases and growth in student enrolments. The additional federal funding on offer under Gonski 2.0 is $110 million: a net gain of only $1 million or $2 per student in 2018. The federal Education Minister today claimed in the media that the proposed funding agreement for Queensland would deliver $114 million more – a figure obtained by deducting the 2016-17 budget allocation (a $4 million cut to Queensland) from the new proposed funding model. Queenslanders are not so easily fooled by a tricky federal politician who is trying to claim credit for delivering a smaller cut than promised.

The Prime Minister has already met opposition to his plan. Education unions, including the QTU, have roundly panned the proposal. Across the nation, the leaders and education ministers in all states and territories have reacted strongly to an announcement made without any reference to them. In addition to Queensland’s concerns over $300 million in cuts to state school funding and losses for Catholic schools, Victoria has announced that it would lose $630 million over the decade and New South Wales is threatening court action to enforce the agreement it signed for the full six years of Gonski.

One thing is certain, the Turnbull federal government has had no “conversion on the road to Gonski”. On the occasion of the election of the Abbott Liberal-National coalition in 2014, the then Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, erased Gonski (the report and the name) from every federal government website. Miraculously, the Gonski report from 2011 reappeared yesterday.

True needs-based funding cannot be made conditional on forcing employing authorities to adopt industrial and professional measures that have failed in every international scenario. The name of Gonski has been co-opted by the federal government to justify a pre-meditated attack on schools, students, teachers and principals and we will not stand by and allow the future of Australia to be so easily squandered.

Kevin Bates