An independent national school funding body – as recommended by the Gonski report – should be included as a part of any new agreements with the states, in a bid to remove the politics of school funding, a school expert has said.
After a week of debate, with the federal government preparing to break existing state funding agreements in 2018-19, retired principal Bernie Shepherd said he hoped the new round of negotiations revived the concept of an independent body to determine how to fund schools in future.
Shepherd and Chris Bonnor analysed school funding data from the My School website which showed equity was worsening in the Australian school system.
Last week, the federal government released analysis which showed total commonwealth school funding differed between states.
But Shepherd and Bonner’s report showed that total state and federal funding per student for non-government schools was starting to outstrip that for government school students of average educational background.
They found school funding arrangements “perpetuated the schools hierarchy and an uneven playing field”.
The authors called on federal and state governments to fully implement the Gonski recommendations.
But Shepherd said the often-forgotten national school resourcing body was an important part of achieving independent evidence-based school funding.
“The hope is that in a new round of negotiations that a national resourcing body will come out, owned by the states, territories and the commonwealth, [one] that can gather the evidence based on what a School Resource Standard should be,” Shepherd said.
Asked if such a body would remove the commonwealth-state argument over school funding seen in the past week, Shepherd said “it would certainly help”.
“In the best of all possible worlds, a school resourcing authority ought to make determinations as to standards, loadings and jurisdictions. That was the original idea which was put in the too-hard basket and then into the wastepaper basket.”
On Monday night on Q&A, the education minister, Simon Birmingham, suggested he would like to see an independent body but it would require the agreement of the states and territories.
“If the states and territories are willing to do so, I am very open to that idea,” he said.
The NSW education minister, Adrian Piccoli, who was first to sign up to the Gillard government’s six-year funding deals, said he would be focusing on sticking to the signed agreements for needs-based Gonski funding.
“If they don’t keep to the principles and don’t continue to work towards the Schooling Resource Standard then, at this stage, I don’t see huge value in an independent national schools resourcing body,” Piccoli said.
The acting Victorian education minister, Steve Herbert, would not commit to an independent resourcing body either.
“If the Turnbull government really wanted to take the politics out of school funding, it would not be walking away from funding the final years of Gonski and ripping almost $1bn from Victorian students,” Herbert said.
“The Turnbull government has not provided any formal policy or proposal for the states to consider in relation to a national funding body – only a plan to cut needs-based funding for our most vulnerable students.”
The Queensland education minister, Kate Jones, said the federal minister had a chance to articulate his vision for the future of school funding at Friday’s ministerial meeting.
“He had every state and territory education minister around the table, ready to discuss and make a deal,” said Jones.
“When senator Birmingham finally stops playing games, I will happily sit down with him and discuss any needs-based funding plan.”