Funding for Australian pupils will remain below the benchmark envisaged by the Gonski reformswhen the Abbott government halts increases in school spending after 2017, new figures show.
The reforms embraced by the former Gillard government involved moving towards a base level of funding for each student called the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS), which would be topped up by “loadings” for categories of need such as disability and socio-economic disadvantage.
The federal Department of Education and Training has told a budget estimates committee that the total public funding in Victorian government schools in 2017 would be 82.3% of the SRS.
In the same year, New South Wales state schools were estimated to be funded at 89.1% of the SRS, compared with 88.1% in South Australia and 94.8% in Tasmania. Government schools in the Australian Capital Territory are the big winners with funding estimated to be at 112.3% of the SRS in 2017.
In a speech to parliament in 2013, the then education minister, Peter Garrett, said Julia Gillard’s government was investing billions of dollars to lift schools to at least 95% of their SRS by 2019, and would also lock in commonwealth funding increases at 4.7% per year.
Abbott and Pyne plan to stop big increases in funding after the fourth year of the six-year Gonski phase-in plan, moving to tie allocations to the consumer price index from 2018, which critics said would not keep pace with growing education costs.
The change could shave about $30bn from projected amounts over the next decade, prompting anger from the states
Labor’s acting education spokesman, Mark Butler, said the SRS funding data was evidence that the government’s funding cuts would be “locking our states and territories into educational inequity, and our education system will be left with huge disparities”.
“The Gonski reforms were a six-year blueprint designed to even the playing field so that every student in every school had the resources they needed to achieve their best, no matter their location. Tony Abbott is cutting the plan short by two years, with severe consequences for our classrooms,” Butler said.
“As a result of the government’s cuts to school funding, some states and territories will never be given the chance to catch up, and the students who need the most help will be the hardest hit.
“This is just more evidence of the short-sightedness of the government’s abandonment of the Gonski model and the devastating impact of the government’s cuts on the future of our education system.”
The education minister, Pyne, said funding was increasing every year and the government would negotiate on the shape of post-2017 funding “as has been the case since time immemorial”.
“We negotiate on a four-year rolling arrangement,” Pyne said after the funding issue was raised at a meeting with state and territory counterparts last week.
“This agreement finishes in 2017. We will negotiate with the non-government sector, the states and territories around the current inequities that exist between the states and territories, and around of course the future funding model.”
Pyne said when he became the minister he restored $1.2bn in funding for the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland, which was removed from the budget before the 2013 election because those jurisdictions had not signed up to the reforms.(Of course it was because Newman, Barnett and co. were playing petty partisan politics in the lead up to the Federal election to the detriment of their own constituents.)
The new SRS figures were disclosed by the Department of Education and Training in response to a question on notice from the previous session of budget estimates hearings.
Officials said total public funding data was not available for the NT, WA and Queensland because they had not signed up to the National Education Reform Agreement (NERA).
“For signatories to the NERA, the table assumes those jurisdictions mirror funding as set out under the Australian Education Act 2013. However, states are able to allocate funding according to their own funding arrangements,” the department said.
The department said different jurisdictions had different per-student funding amounts “as the level of need varies from school to school and by state or territory”.