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Issue #1783      June 28, 2017

Simple Simon met a Gonski …

The Coalition’s so-called Gonski 2.0 was rushed through the Senate in the early hours of Friday morning (June 23) with the support of the Coalition and 10 cross-benchers. Gonski 2.0, despite all the claims of Education Minister Simon Birmingham, is not a needs-based model. Quite the opposite.

Consistent with other Coalition policies, the new funding model for primary and secondary schools will result in richer schools becoming richer and poorer schools with the majority of disadvantaged students continuing to struggle on inadequate funding in the public system.

The Coalition has never supported a needs-based model and still does not.

The government’s slick sales-pitch appears to put all schools on an equal footing – non-government and government, rich and poor, advantaged and disadvantaged.

As former Coalition Prime Minister Tony Abbott once said, giving priority to private and Catholic schools: “It’s in our DNA.” Nothing has changed.

By naming its funding model “Gonski 2.0” the Turnbull government is opportunistically riding on the popularity of what is referred to as Gonski funding. The “I give a Gonski” campaign of the Australian Education Union (AEU) made Gonski a household name and resulted in widespread support for schools to be funded on a more equitable needs basis.

State governments – Liberal and Labor alike – are not happy with the replacement of existing agreements by legislation. They now stand to lose millions of dollars in funding previously negotiated for 2018 and 2019.

The states and territories were not consulted, even though their education funding from the Commonwealth will have conditions placed on it such as spending the amounts dictated by the Coalition and implementing a national policy.

Original Gonski

The Gonski report recommended that there should be a base level of government funding for all Australian students, a schooling resource standard (SRS), with one SRS for primary schools and a higher one for secondary schools where it costs more to educate a child. The SRS is the total of federal and state or territory government funding.

At the same time the Gonski report recommended loadings for additional support for students with disability, for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, for Indigenous students, for students from language backgrounds other than English and for smaller rural, regional and remote schools.

In the case of non-government schools the SRS should be discounted according to the assessed capacity of each school community to contribute to funding (fees, donations, charges, etc). This was based on a socio-economic standard (SES) introduced by the Howard government using postcodes rather than the economic status of families.

Labor’s Gonski

When Labor was in office, it delayed implementing the original Gonski report several years and then negotiated agreements with a number of states for 2014-18. The Gonski funding was to be phased in, with the bulk of it promised post-2018.

Millions of extra dollars have been invested in schools, and some public schools have definitely benefitted from the additional funds with great results. But Gonski 2.0 wipes their additional funding for the remainder of the state agreements.

As a result, some of the poorest and most disadvantaged public schools will miss out on the additional funds they had been guaranteed.

Many of the richest schools were already receiving well above their SRS-assessed funding when Labor introduced its Gonski funding.

At the time Prime Minister/Education Minister Julia Gillard promised that no private (non-government) school would lose money. As a result the needs-based and equity aspects that the Gonski report had emphasised were brushed aside.

In other words much of the Gonski money went to the wrong schools and perpetuated existing inequities.

The AEU website details the loss of income over the next two years as a result of Gonski 2.0 wiping out the existing agreements with states.

Making matters worse, there was no consultation.

Increases inequalities

In fact, over-funding (above the SRS) is set to increase in non-government schools under Gonski 2.0 with only a decrease in a few of the most blatant cases as a cover-up.

Despite their carry-on, Catholic system schools in the ACT, NSW, Queensland and Western Australia will be over-funded under Gonksi 2.0.

The funding increase for public schools is nearly 60% less than planned under Gonski 1.0 while the increase for private schools is double that planned under Gonski 1.0, according to the Save Our Schools calculations.

In particular the majority of public schools will remain underfunded. This is despite the fact that public schools enrol over 80 percent of disadvantaged students across Australia. Their doors are open to all students. They do not cherry pick like the wealthy private schools.

Gonski 2.0 will perpetuate the inconsistencies and inequities in school funding and hence will do nothing to lift the overall standards of Australian schools when ranked internationally.

States squeezed

The aim is for states to contribute 80 percent of the SRS to public schools and at least 20 percent (or more) to non-government schools. There is a phasing in period of six years for combined state and federal funding, with the aim of reaching at least 95% of the SRS for all schools by 2023.

Gonski 2.0 also abolishes the existing requirements for the Commonwealth to increase funding for all schools whose funding is below their SRS by at least 4.7 percent a year until they reach their SRS. This requirement is replaced by a cap on Commonwealth funding of public schools at 20 percent of their SRS.

Education has been turned into a political football.

The running down of public schools while injecting extra funds into private schools is designed to drive parents who can scrape the money together into sending their children to private schools in the belief they will get a better education there.

The long-term objective is privatisation with a good education becoming a privilege for those with wealthy parents.

The inequalities and gross injustices in funding and, as a consequence of these, in outcomes will continue until such time as governments phase out all funding to private schools and focus on providing a fully funded and resourced, high quality public education system which is secular and universally accessible.

Next article – Come and see – May Day International Brigade 2017

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