Newman government's first budget contains little good news for education

The first Newman government State Budget, brought down on 11 September, confirmed the cut and slash fiscal and economic strategy foreshadowed in the so-called Independent Commission of Audit Interim Report.

However, as noted by University of Queensland economist Professor John Quiggin, massive public service job cuts were accompanied by a number of profligate handouts to certain sectors (including $200,000 to the Big Brother TV show), which shows little evidence of fiscal discipline. And, with the notable exception of increasing mining royalties, which – as Clive Palmer has pointed out – could turn out to be revenue neutral, little attempt was made to improve Queensland’s major fiscal problem: an inadequate revenue base.

Staffing and class sizes

About 1,140 FTE positions have been slashed across central and regional offices and in a number of programs which have ceased or been downsized.

The budget papers claim an increase of “270 additional teachers, teacher-aides and support staff to support enrolment growth”. However, according to DETE, the estimated required number of additional staff to meet enrolment growth is 837. DETE is required to “find” the rest of the FTEs needed from within existing resources. This will be done in the following ways.

Key teacher grants/allocations will be reallocated for staffing purposes rather than being used to provide support for the year two net, which schools are no longer required to implement.

The secondary resource teacher allocation will be redirected for general staffing purposes.

The allocative methodology will be adjusted so that “rounding up” no longer occurs in primary schools with enrolments of more than 175 (secondary schools do not currently benefit from rounding up).

It should be noted that the additional teacher-aide numbers for prep (an LNP election promise) count as part of the 270 additional staff. It remains unclear, but it appears that schools may also use some of the new literacy funding ($26m over four years – another LNP election commitment) for staff.

The bottom line is that, while DETE claims that it has been able to find the required staffing number while preserving a commitment to the class size targets and without changing the staffing ratios for students with disabilities, schools will have less flexibility to meet the targets and the number of oversize classes will almost certainly rise.

Schools funding

The state government’s overall contribution to state schooling has increased in unadjusted terms by a miniscule 0.3 per cent (actual 2011-12 to budget 2012-13). This does not take into account increased costs or enrolment increases, so is a reduction in funding in real terms.

VET funding

In the budget papers, VET funding is included in the line item “Training, tertiary education and employment”. VET funding constitutes about 95 per cent of this line item. There is a projected 4.1 per cent decrease (unadjusted) in state government funding for this line item (actual 2011-12 to budget 2012-13). Funding for the Southbank Institute of Technology and the Gold Coast Institute of TAFE is reported separately. State government funding is not identified specifically for these institutions, but funding from all sources (including Commonwealth, user pays and other revenue) decreases by 9 per cent (unadjusted) in the case of the former and 8 per cent in the case of the latter (actual 2011-12 to budget 2012-13).

Capital works

The capital works budget for schools was unchanged from 2011-12 overall. Notable projects include two new secondary schools at Northern Mackay and Pimpama and further funding to support the introduction of year seven as the first year of secondary from 2015. The government has allocated $115 million over four years for the Building Queensland Schools of the Future election commitment (only $29m of this is for the state schooling sector).

The training capital works budget has suffered a 49 per cent reduction from 2011-12. Major projects include $24.1 million to continue the development of the Central Queensland trade and technical skills campus at Mackay; $3.3 million to continue the redevelopment of the Bracken Ridge and Eagle Farm campuses of SkillsTech Australia; and $7.8m for capital works at Gold Coast Institute of TAFE.

A full list of capital works projects can be accessed at: www.budget.qld.gov.au/budget-papers/2012-13/bp3-2012-13.pdf.

Maintenance

This is the main positive education story coming out of the Budget, but it is not unproblematic. Under its “Advancing Our Schools” program, an additional $200m will be provided for schools maintenance in state schools. The department’s annual maintenance budget of $80m remains, the budget announcement of $100m per year for two years is new money.

Schools will have to advise their regional facilities manager whether they will continue to use QBuild or go directly to the market for the delivery of all planned and routine breakdown maintenance. Schools that, after consultation with their P&C, elect the “Direct to Market” option before 26 October, will receive early payment of funds.
 QBuild would still be the designated provider in emergencies e.g. fire and for asbestos.

You can access a more detailed Budget analysis at www.qtu.asn.au. The complete Budget Papers can be accessed at www.budget.qld.gov.au/current-budget/index.php.

John McCollow
Research Officer

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Volume 117 Number 7, 5 October 2012, pp12-13