What’s at stake for schools and TAFE at the forthcoming federal election?
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 127 No 1, 11 February 2022, page no.10
School and TAFE funding may not sound like the most exciting subject, but the decisions of governments on how they expend the revenue they have available to them can have lasting impacts upon our society and our economy.
Since the original Gonski Report was handed down in 2010 (yes, 12 years ago!), teachers, school leaders and parents in state schools have been waiting for all schools to be funded fairly.
By the end of next year, the current bilateral agreement between the Commonwealth and state governments will see state schools in Queensland reaching only 89 per cent of the schooling resource standard (SRS) recommended by the Gonski report, while the majority of non-government schools in Queensland will achieve 100 per cent in combined state and federal funding, even before other sources of income such as parent fees are taken into consideration.
The main reason for this inequity is the funding guarantee the current Morrison and former Turnbull governments put into place, guaranteeing 80 per cent of the SRS for non-government schools and only 20 per cent for state school. The cap also fails to recognise that state governments also provide some funding to non-government schools. This funding cap must be removed to ensure all state school can achieve 100 per cent of the SRS.
To rub salt into the funding wounds, the Turnbull/Morrison government also set up a $1.2 billion school infrastructure fund that has only been accessible to non-government schools.
These policies need to change. We need a pathway enabling all state schools to achieve 100 per cent of the SRS, and we need both the Commonwealth and state governments to invest in the capital facilities of state schools, to ensure they meet the standards of a 21st century learning environment.
TAFE also needs to see greater investment at a federal level. We have seen TAFE dismantled and put back together in a number of states and the public provider forced to compete for a market share of the federal “funding envelope” against some questionable private providers. We have also seen the collapse of a number of private training companies, with TAFE left to pick up the pieces with no additional funding.
The COVID-19 pandemic has provided many challenges in terms of health and economic costs to our community. We need more investment in TAFE now to ensure we can boost local manufacturing at a time when global geopolitics and supply chain logistics have never been so challenged. The QTU and our federal body the Australian Education Union (AEU) have called upon the Commonwealth and state governments to guarantee 70 per cent of all VET funding for TAFE.
Where do the two major parties stand on school and TAFE funding?
At the time of writing, the Morrison government has not announced any changes to its approach to school funding. It appears to have no intention to adjust the current 20 per cent cap on state school funding. Neither has it commented on any potential changes to the current bilateral agreements between the states and Commonwealth, which lock in the current funding caps. It has made no announcements about new spending on capital works in state schools.
In terms of TAFE funding, while the Morrison government has invested in the sector through the Job Trainer fund, its overarching funding program is competitive and there has been no increase in guaranteed funding for TAFE.
By contrast, the Albanese opposition has made some pre-election announcements on funding. It has committed to reviewing the current bilateral school funding agreements, with the intention of helping all public schools reach their fair funding level as soon as possible. We will need to monitor the specifics of this commitment closer to the election, but it is a step in the right direction.
A further announcement was made in late January committing $238 million to help schools upgrade their facilities, with a focus on air quality and ventilation (in response to the COVID-19 pandemic) and a further $188 million grant for larger capital investments in public schools.
Although these figures are modest in comparison to the $1.2 Morrison government non-government school infrastructure fund, they represent the first commitment to Commonwealth capital works funding for public schools since the Rudd government’s Building the Education Revolution program, which funded halls and libraries across the country.
The Albanese opposition has also promised 465,000 free TAFE places, $50 million for new TAFE facilities and equipment, and a guarantee of 70 per cent of total government funding for TAFE.
If delivered, these commitments will rebuild and restore TAFE as the anchor institution of vocational education. They will ensure vocational students have access to more courses, more opportunity, high quality facilities and state-of-the-art equipment, and importantly, to more teachers and greater individual attention.
The announcement places TAFE at the centre of the federal election debate. Voters will have a clear choice when they head to the polls.
Analysing the commitments
As we approach the forthcoming federal election, the QTU will be analysing the commitments of all political parties across the areas of schools funding, TAFE funding and industrial relations policy. This is in line with the QTUs 2021 Biennial Conference statement, which stated:
“Acknowledging the Union’s strategic objectives and the 2021 Conference Statement, the QTU will support candidates and parties that respect the profession. This aligns to the broader priorities of the QTU and as the federal level of government continues to seek increased control over schools through bilateral agreements with states and territories, engagement in the federal election is a critical Union activity.
“The following measures would be used when assessing support for political parties and candidates and will form part of ongoing lobbying of federal politicians.
“A government or elected representative who respects the profession would:
- Invest in schools and TAFE infrastructure
- Fund (fairly) schools and TAFE
- Reject measures of teacher, school leader and school performance through standardised testing
- Make education policy decisions that are informed by the profession
- Consider the workload and wellbeing of teachers and school leaders when forming education policy
- Support – not attack or undermine the profession publicly and in private
- Recognise teachers and school leaders as frontline workers
- Provide professional autonomy in schools and TAFE.”