The federal government has dashed hopes that Malcolm Turnbull would reverse the objections of his predecessor, Tony Abbott, to the Gonski school funding model, confirming that funding for the program is not guaranteed beyond 2017.
State governments and the education union had been buoyed by comments Turnbull made shortly after taking over from Abbott that indicated that Gonski may be given a lifeline.
The sharp funding increases slated for the last two years of the reforms – 2017 and 2018 – were scrapped in the 2014 budget, and not reinstated in the most recent budget update.
The federal education minister, Simon Birmingham, confirmed on Tuesday that the Gonski funding model was no longer on the table.
“Nothing has changed in relation to the Turnbull government’s policy on schools funding,” he said in a statement.
The teacher’s union was disappointed that Gonski was no longer an option, saying that Turnbull’s “positive comments” on the program had caused many in the sector to be optimistic.
“I think it would be a shock to anyone waking up this morning,” the federal president of the Australian Education Union, Correna Haythorpe, told Guardian Australia. “People were very hopeful that the last two years would be funded.”
Shortly after becoming prime minister, Turnbull was asked if he would reconsider funding the fifth and sixth years of the Gonski funding.
“This is all being considered by the government in the context of a very tight budget,” he told the ABC in late October.
On Tuesday he said the Coalition’s education policy was up for review.
“The bottom line is that the funding after 2018 is still a matter for discussion between the federal government and the states,” he said in Victoria. “Funding is important, but there is a lot more to it, I think as we all know. The key element is teacher quality and we are very focused on that.
“Simon Birmingham, the education minister, is in discussion with his colleagues and the states, and we are certainly committed to ensuring that working together with the states, our common challenge has the outcome that all Australian kids get access to a high quality education.”
States have expressed their disappointment.
“I understand the budget pressures they are under but I strongly believe it is too early to make a decision in relation to that funding,” the New South Wales premier, Mike Baird, said.
“Yes, the funds might have to be found, but if we prove over the next two or three years that those funds are delivering better educational outcomes for our kids, particularly some of our most disadvantaged kids, what sort of government would not want to participate in that?”
Baird said NSW was committed to funding the full term of the policy and wanted the federal government to consider doing the same.
The acting Australian Capital Territory education minister, Mick Gentleman, said the government must be clear on how it was going to fund schools if it ditched the Gonski model, which allocates money to schools based on the individual needs of students.
“They have to move quickly to end the current uncertainty and begin negotiations with the states and territories and non-government sectors,” he said.
Education policy will shape up to be a “key election issue” in 2016, Haythorpe predicted.
Polling of just under 700 voters in Turnbull’s eastern Sydney electorate of Wentworth found that eight out of 10 voters supported increased funding for public schools in line with Gonski recommendations.
The ReachTel poll, conducted in October, found that 73% of Liberal voters supported the proposition.
Birmingham insisted that the federal government would stick with the needs-based policy championed in the Gonski reforms.
“The Turnbull government remains committed to engaging prior to 2018 in discussions with the states, territories and non-government sector about post-2017 funding that is fair, transparent, needs-based, affordable and looks beyond just a two year horizon,” he said.
Also read Lucy Clark's article: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/29/its-a-no-brainer-if-you-want-school-funding-to-be-needs-based-fund-gonski
And for Liberal ministers who can't read budget papers, here is a graph showing how the previous government funded Gonski