Australia: Changes to school funding – your questions answered

Australia: Changes to school funding – your questions answered
Under the new education budget reforms, states will only get funding if they agree to use the money for reforms proven “to support better outcomes for students”. Source: Shutterstock

Can’t get your head around the latest announcements in school funding? You’re not alone. Members of the public have been sending in the questions they want answered about the recent changes.

Education expert Glenn Savage from the University of Melbourne, has done his best to answer them.

The new reform represents an overall funding increase for Australian schools.

It also maintains core principles of the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) generated by the original Gonski review.

The SRS is a funding formula that comprises a “base-rate” amount per student (with different amounts for primary and secondary students), plus extra loadings based on various equity categories.

The SRS treats government and non-government (which include Catholic and independent) schools differently, with the former supposed to receive the full base-rate while the latter should receive a proportion based on the ability of a school to raise private income (in other words, through school fees).

So, it is incorrect to frame the reform as “Con-ski”, as in many ways it is closely aligned with Gonski’s original funding formula.

The new reform is good policy for two main reasons.

First, it seeks, in principle at least, to correct some of the compromises and corruptions that marred the original Gonski reforms, leading to many different deals being done across the nation and to a highly inconsistent application of the SRS.

Second, states will only get funding if they agree to use the money for reforms proven “to support better outcomes for students”.

This will broaden the focus from simply debating how much schools get, to the equally important question of what schools do with the cash.

Labor’s claim about “a AUD22 billion cut” is misleading, because Labor was not re-elected and was never in a position to deliver on its promises.

So Labor is basically saying “our promise is bigger than yours”, rather than making a reasonable argument about actual money being cut.

Nor is Labor doing a good job of justifying how the promised extra AUD22 billion would have been more wisely invested.

In the Australian federation, the federal government is the primary funder of non-government (Catholic and independent) schools, whereas state governments are the primary funders of government schools.

The Gonski reforms relate to federal funding of schools, not state funding, so this is why non-government schools get a greater share.

Prior to the 1970s, the federal government did not provide ongoing funding to any schools.

This changed following the 1973 Karmel Report, which led to the federal government introducing ongoing yearly funding for both government and non-government schools.

In the decades since, there have been
significant increases in the amount of federal funding for government and non-government schools, but funding to non-government schools has increased at a higher rate.

At present, the federal government funds, on average, 17 percent of the SRS for government schools, and 76.8 percent for non-government schools.

Under the new reform plan, the federal government is suggesting it will increase these percentages to 20 percent and 80 percent respectively by 2027.

The government says it “will be up to states” as to whether they wish to fund the remaining amounts so that all schools reach the full SRS.

The majority of Australian schools will receive more money under the new reforms. The schools that stand to lose money are those currently over-funded.

No funding freezes will occur. Both government and non-government (Catholic and independent) schools will continue to receive federal funding.

It is a deft political move by the Coalition to appropriate David Gonski as the public face of the new reform. It clearly blunts attacks from Labor, the Australian Education Union and other groups who have effectively made the word “Gonski” a weapon in school funding wars.

So, bringing Gonski back into the fray is clearly a re-branding strategy by the Coalition to transform the symbolism of the word Gonski and claim it as their own.

The Coalition obviously sees merit in the original Gonski reforms, but would have a difficult time selling a reform package that was simply a repeat of the original Gonski plan generated under Labor.

It is for this reason it has commissioned a new Gonski Review (Gonski 2.0), to be titled “Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools”.

The review is not designed to simply “re-write” the original Gonski report, but instead has an explicit focus on reviewing evidence about the kinds of initiatives that impact most positively on student outcomes. This is so money can be better targeted.

An optimist, therefore, would hope Gonski 1.0 and 2.0 will together provide a powerful roadmap for positive change in how schools are funded and what they do with the money.

Many argue the federal government is too generous in funding non-government schools to the extent that it does.

Australia is one of very few OECD nations that funds private schools, making our school funding settlement an outlier internationally.

The original Gonski review was designed to introduce a fairer, more transparent and needs-based federal funding model. If such a model had been produced, over-funded non-government schools would have lost some money.

But this never happened. Instead, early in the review process, the Labor government promised “no school would lose a dollar” as a result of the reforms.

Instead of a “needs-based” model, Labor delivered a model that injected significantly more money into schooling, but also protected the vested interests of Catholic and independent schools.

There is simply no denying this fact. As original Gonski review panellist member Ken Boston recently put it, “the Gonski Report was filleted and the flesh thrown away”, leaving a deeply unfair set of arrangements.

The new reforms will do nothing to change the ongoing federal funding of non-government schools, some of which are elite high-fee schools.

On the positive side, it does promise (on paper at least) to make funding more equitable by transitioning to a model that is better aligned with the original intentions of the Gonski report and ensures over-funded non-government schools do not continue to be over-funded.

It will be very interesting to see if the Coalition can deliver on this promise or whether it will also cave to vested interests (especially from the Catholic sector, which has already signalled its intention to fight).

Author provided.

Unless your children are in schools currently over-funded in accordance with the SRS, it is likely the schools will receive either similar or more funding amounts next year.

The important thing to remember is that in Australia’s federal system, state governments remain the primary funders of government schools (see response to question two above).

States do not directly “pass on” federal funding, but instead pool it together with state money and redistribute it according to state funding formulas.

This means there can be two schools that have exactly the same characteristics and funding entitlements under the SRS, but end up receiving different amounts of funding because they are located in different states.

So, the final amount a government school gets is ultimately up to the states.

By Glenn C. Savage, Senior Lecturer in Education Policy and ARC DECRA Fellow (2016-19), Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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