Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Gonski on the election trail

From the Guardian
A Queensland school principal has suggested the defence department, rather than schools, should be required to raise funds by running chook raffles and selling tea towels, saying if the school lost Gonski funding it would need to cut three teachers and 15 teachers’ aides.

Heatley school principal Louise Wilkinson hosted opposition leader Bill Shorten and education spokeswoman Kate Ellis to discuss Labor’s election promise to provide $4.5bn under the principles laid down by the 2011 report into education funding by David Gonski. The school is in the seat of Herbert, currently held by the LNP’s Ewen Jones on a margin of 6.2%.

Wilkinson said she was still not 100% certain of the Gonski funding allocation next year for her school, whose student population is one-third Indigenous students and which also has a high proportion of special needs children.

She told Guardian Australia the current Gonski funding – $300,000 for 620 students – was used to employ three teachers and 15 teachers’ aides. The allocation, she said, provided “real progress” for the school.

But the extra teachers and aides are all on casual contracts because the Gonski funding has been a point of difference between the two major parties. When the agreements were signed under the Gillard Labor government, the former state government under Campbell Newman refused to sign.

“Because it’s about dollars, and dollars are allegedly short, it’s about a suite of competing priorities and I would argue ... that it’s about time defence did some chook raffles and sold tea towels,” said Wilkinson.

“My theory – and this is why I have stayed in education for over 30 years – I believe if we had better educated people and more active citizens then we might have less violence and less need for all the patch-ups that occur.”

Wilkinson agreed there could be better “efficiencies” in education spending, but said in her school and region, the funding had delivered real improvement.

“While we are not the lowest [socio-demographic school] in our region we are certainly one of the lower schools in Townsville, so with that comes a complexity and a challenge. But with additional funding, we can move mountains,” Wilkinson said.

“We are making real progress because of our sharp and narrow focus and we’re really channelling the resources that we do have, but more is welcome.”

POn Tuesday Labor released a breakdown of the funding, promised for 2018-19 – the last two years of the six-year Gonski agreements signed up under Gillard. The document sets out the difference between what the Coalition promised ($1.2bn over 2018-19) and what Labor promised ($4.5bn over 2018-20). It is then broken down for all the electorates in Australia. For example, Labor claims in the seat of Herbert it would provide $48m more than the Coalition in Gonski funding.

The education minister, Simon Birmingham, said Labor did not appear to understand how the funding model worked.

“Quite simply, the federal government pays lump sums to states and territories and nongovernment organisations to distribute as they see fit and based on their own funding models,” the minister said. “Contrary to what is implied in his announcement today, Bill Shorten would have no say in how money is allocated to each school.

“Not only does Labor have no say in how funding is distributed among individual schools, but they will continue a model riddled with inconsistencies in funding between the states, territories and nongovernment systems.”

No matter who wins the election, the next government will have to renegotiate funding deals with the states. Those agreements will set out the conditions of the funding allocations.

Shorten was asked how he could guarantee that the states would pass on the Gonski funds rather than pocketing the extra money – given Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory did not sign up to the original agreements that forced the other states to contribute to the program.
“There’s been a change in the government of Queensland,” Shorten said.

“Campbell Newman, who was remarkably belligerent in his negotiations with us – but fair enough, I think that was his modus operandi – the government’s changed.

“Annastacia Palaszczuk and her team will sit down because they prioritise school funding. But they know a great school like this in Townsville needs resources. The commonwealth has a role in education.”

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