Things seem to be looking up for Australia’s struggling public schools. Under the federal government’s Gonski plan, some schools will receive funding increases of 120 percent or more, according to figures released last week for Victoria and Queensland. Gillard is also offering the Barnett government in Western Australia $900 million to “sign on to Gonski”.
The proposed funding model sounds attractive. The Australian Education Union says that the new model is fairer. But is it?
The money will come slowly to public schools. The Age has reported that in the ALP’s proposed funding model there will be less funding to public schools than present in the first two years of the new arrangement. Schools will be $21 million worse off in 2014-15 and $136 million worse off 2015-16.
These figures take account of the fact that previous grants and subsidies (the laptops in schools program, the building grants, grants for numeracy and literacy) have either already stopped or are coming to an end in the next 12 months to two years.
Even when the money is due to start flowing more generously, it is not anywhere near enough. In 2009 the amount of extra funding that would be required to bring all schools in Australia up to a reasonable standard was estimated at $5 billion a year. In today’s terms, that figure is $6.5 billion a year. But the government’s original announcement allowed for only $14.5 billion over 6 years.
The Queensland figures show that the extra funding for all 1,235 schools averages 36.8 percent per student over six years. That’s around 5.5 percent per year (once you factor in compounding) and about 2 percent per year above the current inflation rate. One hundred and sixty-four schools will receive less than 20 percent extra funding over six years.
In Victoria the figures tell a similar story. You can point to some schools that are real winners, but there are plenty of schools that will not be much better off and some will be worse off.
The gap in both funding and student outcomes between public and private schools in Australia is massive, and growing. Australia has one of the largest private education sectors in the OECD, and a public education sector that is suffering declining outcomes every year.
While public education will still be significantly underfunded, federal Treasurer Wayne Swan has pledged an extra $258 million for 187 independent schools and $254 million for 296 Catholic schools in Queensland over the next five years. Education Minister Peter Garret has also pledged that private schools “will not lose a dollar” under the new model.
Yet the education opportunities for poorer students from public schools are being squeezed. TAFE at the state level in Victoria and NSW is being gutted. Nationally, university students are losing out with massive cuts to university funding and to student living allowances.
The new education funding model is being touted as a great ALP reform. It doesn’t survive close scrutiny, however.
Education funding under Gillard has been two steps forward, four steps back at my western Sydney public school. In the coming years I will have less resources: the technical support officer is to lose her job and funding for a successful numeracy project will dry up. So much for the education revolution.