The Turnbull Government’s Gonski 2.0 funding plan is a fiasco. Public schools will remain under-funded and there will be a massive increase in over-funding of private schools. The Education Amendment Bill before the Parliament to implement Gonski 2.0 should be rejected and an alternative Gonski PLUS model that builds on Gonski 1.0 be developed in conjunction with the States.
Gonski 2.0 fails to ensure that public schools will ever be funded at their Schooling Resource Standard (SRS), including base funding plus disadvantage loadings. It abolishes the provision in the current legislation that the Commonwealth increase funding for schools that are under their SRS by at least 4.7% a year until they reach their SRS. This is replaced by a cap on Commonwealth funding of public schools at 20% of their SRS. Currently, public schools are funded by the Commonwealth at about 17% of their SRS.
The cap means that the Commonwealth Government has abandoned taking on an increasing role in funding disadvantaged students, over 80% of whom attend public schools, as planned under Gonski 1.0. It is now left to the States to decide whether to fund public schools to 80% of their SRS or not. The Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, made this very clear in his address to the National Press Club in May:
…that is a matter of policy priorities for them. If they want to pay 80 per cent of our School Resourcing Standard they can do that; if they want to instead spend some more money on police, they can do that – roads, hospitals, take your pick for State governments.
It is highly uncertain whether the States will ever meet the 80% target as most have neglected public schools in recent years. Between 2009-10 and 2014-15, they cut funding for public schools by an average of $732, or 6.6%, per student, but increased funding for private schools by $161 per student, or 6.9%. The State component of the SRS of public schools is well below the target 80% in most States. For example, it is 71% in NSW, 66% in Victoria, 72% in Queensland and South Australia, and 67% in the Northern Territory.
Under Gonski 2.0, the States will only be required to maintain the real level of funding per student, not increase it as planned under Gonski 1.0. Even if the States do maintain real funding into the future, public schools will never recover their reductions in funding since 2009-10 or get anywhere near 100% of their SRS by 2026-27.
Without a major funding boost by State governments, government funding for public schools will be significantly below their SRS in almost every State and Territory. The likelihood is that disadvantaged public schools will remain vastly under-resourced under Gonski 2.0 and there will be little or no progress in improving outcomes for disadvantaged students. The Commonwealth has effectively abandoned the national goal of increasing equity in education.
In contrast to the funding uncertainty for public schools under Gonski 2.0, private schools get much greater funding certainty. Catholic and Independent schools will be at their SRS or more in nearly every State.
The fiasco of Gonski 2.0 is even greater. While it reduces the most blatant instances of over-funding of private schools, it will provide a huge increase in total over-funding of private schools, not less.
Many high SES and other private schools will have their total government funding increased to over 100% of their SRS under Gonski 2.0 as the Commonwealth Government increases their funding to 80% of their SRS. Many that are already over-funded with have their over-funding increased and many others will remain over-funded despite cuts or slower increases in their funding. This will occur because State and Territory government funding of these schools exceeds 20% of their SRS.
There is no requirement that the States should reduce their funding of private schools to 20% of their SRS and it is unlikely that they will do so.
The percentage of Independent schools funded above their SRS will increase from 17% to 65%. Nearly 90% of Independent schools in the ACT will be over-funded, 83% in Western Australia, 75% in Queensland and 72% in NSW. One-third to one-half of schools in South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria will be over-funded while 56% of Northern Territory Independent schools will get more than their SRS.
Catholic systemic schools in the ACT, NSW, Queensland and Western Australia will also be over-funded. Western Australian Catholic schools will be funded by 8% more than their SRS. Catholic schools in Tasmania and Victoria will be funded at their SRS while those in the Northern Territory and South Australia will be only slightly below.
Gonski 2.0 is not the fair funding system that Turnbull and Birmingham claim. It is most unfair that the large majority of disadvantaged students are very unlikely to be funded at their SRS while the vast majority of advantaged students in Independent and Catholic schools will be funded at their SRS and above.
A basic flaw of Gonski 2.0 is that it abandons any effort towards a national approach to school funding. It entrenches the structural incoherence of school funding so heavily criticised in the original Gonski report.
Even though David Gonski was standing next to Turnbull when he announced Gonski 2.0, the new approach directly contradicts what Gonski recommended. His report recommended a national co-operative approach to school funding, particularly in supporting disadvantaged students. It said:
Funding arrangements for government and non-government schools must be better balanced to reflect the joint contribution of both levels of government in funding all schooling sectors. They must also be better co-ordinated so that funding effort can be maximised, particularly effort to improve the educational outcomes of disadvantaged students. [xv]
Gonski 2.0 has locked in a system of different funding roles for public and private schools by the Commonwealth and State governments instead of developing an integrated system of government funding. It will perpetuate inconsistencies and inequities in school funding.
The Turnbull Government has washed its hands of taking any significant responsibility for improving the life opportunities of disadvantaged students in public schools. In keeping with the tradition of the Coalition in school funding, the main priority of Gonski 2.0 is to look after private schools and their more advantaged families. This is why there will be a huge increase in the number of private schools that are over-funded, while public schools and their disadvantaged students will remain under-funded for the tasks they face. All the claims about a fairer funding system are just rhetoric to disguise the reality of what Gonski 2.0 offers private schools. Unfortunately, many commentators and organisations have been deceived by this mendacity.
The Commonwealth and State and Territory governments should negotiate a Gonski PLUS national school funding plan that delivers the large funding increase needed by disadvantaged students in public schools and creates a national system to ensure needs-based funding for all students, across all schools and all systems. It could be funded by eliminating all over-funding of private schools.
At the very least, the 20% cap on Commonwealth funding for public schools proposed by Gonski 2.0 should be rejected and the current legislative requirement for the Commonwealth to increase funding for schools resourced below their SRS by at least 4.7% per year until they reach their SRS should be retained. Additionally, the Commonwealth Government should require State and Territory governments to increase their inflation-adjusted per student funding for public schools as a condition of Commonwealth funding.
Trevor Cobbold, National Convenor, Save Our Schools http://www.saveourschools.com.au