The uncertain future of school funding in Australia

3843968-3x2-340x227In order to keep up with the education news in Australia, I check in periodically with Glenn Savage, Researcher and Lecturer in Education Policy, Melbourne Graduate School of Education at University of Melbourne.

“The past few weeks have seen some wild twists and turns in the politics of Australian school funding,” Savage stated in a recent post on The Conversation. Discussions in Australia have focused particularly a confidential paper developed by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet that was leaked to the press earlier this month. As Prime Minister Tony Abbott has indicated, the reforms suggested by the 2011 Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling may be abandoned. As these reforms aimed to address inequities in school funding, and had yet to be fully implemented, many are concerned that an alternative model would not adequately address the needs of disadvantaged students. The leaked “green paper” presented four funding reform options for consideration:

  1. States and territories becoming fully responsible for funding all schools;
  2. States and territories becoming fully responsible for funding all schools, with the federal government funding non-government schools;
  3. Commonwealth involvement in schools reduced, without “significant structural change”; or
  4. Federal government becoming “dominant funder of all schools.”

According to a recent article in The Sydney Morning Herald, under the fourth option the federal government would “adjust for student need and the ability of families to make a contribution.” Therefore, high-income families might end up paying fees to send their children to public schools. The has proved to be the most controversial of the four suggested models, as it purports to target disadvantaged schools while promoting parental choice, yet the fear is that it would result in “separate responsibility for service delivery and funding.” This new model contrasts with the Gonski Review, which stated: “It is important for the future of Australian schooling that the government sector continues to perform the role of a universal provider of high-quality education which is potentially open to all.”

The Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling, which was chaired by businessman David Gonski, built upon a watershed 1973 report known as the Karmel Report. The Karmel Report was produced by the Whitlam government and introduced the ongoing federal funding of schools, which was a departure at the time from the prior model in which state governments funded schools with only supplemental support from the federal government. The report was the first significant intervention in primary and secondary education on the basis of what Savage called a “comprehensive plan of goals and priorities rather than an ad hoc response to particular demands.” As Savage explained, it was a highly influential “moment in school funding because for the first time ever the government started funding schools.”

The Gonski Review, conducted in 2011, came about in response to concerns over increasingly inequitable school funding—despite the attention called to such inequities in the Karmel Report.

The Gonski Review called for what Savage called “a major overhaul in school funding, promoting a needs-based sector-blind model.” As Savage went on to explain, “there is a base amount, for students in primary and secondary schools, and there are ‘loadings’ on top for different groups – such as indigenous students and English Language Learners.”

Savage argues that there is a “common belief that the Gonski Report was just put into practice. That’s somewhat true….but they promised independent schools and Catholic schools that they wouldn’t lose any money under Gonski formula. To get it through parliament, they had to come up with a compromise to say no school would lose a dollar.” Due to political influence, the reforms were never implemented as intended.

Despite public outcry in favor of the Gonski reforms, the current Abbott administration has promised not to continue to fund the reforms suggested by the Gonski Review. “Everyone’s worried because it doesn’t look like Gonski will ever happen in the way it was supposed to,” said Savage, going on to point out the even larger concern that there is a “a complete lack of clarity about how schools will be funded in the future.”

Deirdre Faughey

For more information:

School funding again up for debate http://buff.ly/1MMKApN

Give a Gonski? Funding myths and politicking derail schools debate http://buff.ly/1MMKDlq

School funding report makes flawed case for full Gonski reforms | The Australian http://buff.ly/1KpoXyc

In wake of stalled Gonski Review is there a way forward on school funding? http://buff.ly/1MMKmyK

New data shows slump in public school funding http://buff.ly/1KppdNF

‘Gonksi is not dead’: NSW calls on Federal Government to commit to education reforms – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) http://buff.ly/1MMKrme

 

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