Saturday, 14 February 2015

Funding Fight Round 1

According to today's Age, the new state government is about to launch its attack on Pyne's Gonski funding 'slight of hand'.

The Andrews Government is headed for a showdown with Tony Abbott over schools funding, accusing Canberra of short-changing students and vowing to make the issue another pressure-point for the embattled Prime Minister ahead of next year's election.

In the latest sign of simmering state-federal tensions, Victoria has urged the federal government to "back off" from an earlier decision not to honour the final two years of the so-called Gonski funding deal, after figures revealed for the first time that schools would have benefited from an extra $4 billion had the Commonwealth stuck to the original agreement.

According to a damning Auditor-General's report released last week, Victorian schools would have been granted more than $1.4 billion in federal funds in 2018, and more than $2.5 billion in 2019 – if Canberra had adhered to the six-year deal secured under former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and former state premier Denis Napthine.

Instead, the Abbott government only committed to four years, or $2.8 billion, between 2014-17 according to the report – far less than the schools bonanza provided in the final years of the Gonski agreement Victoria signed up to."He cannot be allowed to get away with cutting off years 5 and 6," state education minister James Merlino told The Sunday Age. "I absolutely do not accept that this is a fight that cannot be won. I'll be working closely with my state and territory colleagues. This is going to be a big part of the national debate over the course of the next two years and it should be a key part of the debate at the next federal election."

Mr Merlino's comments come as funding shortfalls continue to be a growing concern for parents, teachers, and principals. The latest Productivity Commission report on government services, for instance, confirmed that Victorian state schools still get the lowest government funding of schools in Australia – with each student receiving almost $2000 less than the national average.

The original intent of the Gonski reforms was to help schools by creating a needs-based funding model, where every student would get a base level of funds, with extra loadings for children who are poor, disabled, live in the bush, or come from indigenous backgrounds.

But while the former federal Labor government had promised to fund the scheme for six years – with money increasing substantially each year – the Abbott Government, after a series of policy shifts, only committed to four.

A spokesman for Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne said state school funding over that period would increase by 32 per cent. "There are no cuts to Commonwealth Government funding to Victorian schools. Commonwealth government has honoured all its election commitments on school funding and funding is flowing as agreed," he said.

However, Australian Education Union state president Meredith Peace said parents would be "disturbed" to learn Victorians schools stood to gain almost $4 billion in additional funding – above and beyond enrolment growth funding, teacher salary increases and other areas that are usually paid for by governments – if only the original agreement been honoured.

"In our view, this has got to be a critical issue in the next federal election," she said. "There is growing inequality in this country and it is impacting on our student outcomes. Is Tony Abbott going to deny generations of students the opportunity to get a high-quality education? It's inexcusable." 

Link to an interesting article in the Age about the Finnish education system:

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