Monday, 26 September 2016

Tanya Plibersek responds to Birmingham in the Guardian

It’s important, sometimes, to get back to basics. Given the debate about schools funding launched by the government, it’s timely to look again at the reasons Labor asked David Gonski and his expert panel to undertake a review into our schools in the first place.

We did it because we wanted a thorough, systemic analysis of how we could be sure every Australian child got the best possible education.

What did the Gonski review conclude? That to get a great education every child should receive the Schooling Resource Standard, which we set at $9,271 for every primary school and $12,193 for every high school child.

Along with this came the National Plan for School Improvement, because Labor always knew that extra money had to come with a clear plan to lift performance.

Labor also introduced an unprecedented national testing and transparency plan, so that we could pick up children who were falling behind much earlier, and put extra resources in to make sure we helped those children as early as possible in their schooling. We could also learn what was working and not working in school communities, so our whole system could continuously improve.

This is the plan that Simon Birmingham has been desperately insisting this week that the government supports.

Yet in every respect, he is arguing for the opposite.

He doesn’t want to reach the Schooling Resource Standard.

He doesn’t really want to give schools extra for kids with extra needs.

On Monday night we heard him say that some schools are “overfunded” but he’s not prepared to say which ones.

And while he plays a blame game, trying to distract from the government’s plan to defund schools, he seems to have conveniently forgotten his own party’s record.

The former education minister Christopher Pyne slashed schools funding then got rid of the requirement that states and territories increase their own funding along with increases in federal funds. Pyne dismissed the requirement to improve standards in our schools as just red tape.

We know investing in our kids’ schooling is the best thing we can do to build future prosperity.

That’s not just bad for those individual children, it’s a drag on our economic growth as a nation.

Labor made the tough calls on budget reform to find savings such as changes to the tobacco excise and reducing superannuation concessions for millionaires to fund the extra money needed for our schools. The government says we can’t afford the extra funding, yet it wants to go ahead with its $50bn tax cut for big business, which most economists believe will do significantly less for our productivity as a nation than Labor’s plan for school improvement.

The government is out and about this week playing the blame game and picking fights with the states and territories to distract from its plan to effectively scrap needs-based funding. I’m not going to fall for this old trick from the Liberals’ playbook.

Let’s look at their record – they’ve already cut two-thirds of the funding out of Gonski by refusing to fund the final two years – more than a $3.8bn cut.

Their 2014 budget papers show a $29bn cut from schools over the decade.

Principals, parents, teachers – they can tell you the difference the early years of Gonski funding is already making. They continue to share with me the wonderful stories of how needs-based funding is providing much-needed speech pathology and occupational therapy in our most disadvantaged schools.

Labor knows that we should be investing in needs-based support, not cutting our funding for education. It’s the most important thing we can do to ensure our children will continue to share in the prosperity of the future.

The alternative we’re seeing from Minister Birmingham and the Liberals is just the same tired, old fights: federal versus state; state versus state; school system against school system; child against child.

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