The Turnbull Government budget announced an additional spend of $1.2 billion on schooling between 2018 and 2020. It was billed as part of a $73.6 billion Student Achievement Plan.
At first I found the latter figure bewildering because the $73.6 billion did not seem to fit with the Commonwealth expenditure on schools of $14 billion per year, or the combined state, territory and Commonwealth expenditure on schools of $52.42 billion for 2013-14. (These are the most recent years for which comparable data is available).
So I went searching for where it came from. You might be interested to know I discovered this “additional” funding package would be better described as a partial restoration of the funding cuts of the 2014 budget. It is not new funding at all.
The key was buried on page 14 of the Quality Schooling, Quality Outcomes report by the Commonwealth Education Department, which itself was quietly uploaded on Sunday last week after the announcements.
In the Department’s own words:
“Consequently, as a result of using this index*, the Australian Government will provide an additional $1.2 billion over four years from 2017–18.
This additional investment in schooling will bring the Australian Government’s total funding commitment for school education to a record $73.6 billion over the Budget and Forward Estimates period.”
[*Italics are mine]
In other words, the “new” money is just the result of ditching the paltry CPI index rate in favour of a slightly higher “education specific indexation rate of 3.56%” which is still below the higher indexation rates (up to 4.7%) that the Coalition removed in its 2014 budget.
This partial restoration of funding comes with conditions
But wait, there’s more. This funding comes with extensive conditions on specific reforms the states and nongovernment school system authorities must undertake. These include standardised tests for Year 1 students, minimum standards for Year 12, performance pay for teachers, and use of explicit instruction for the teaching of literacy and numeracy.
I doubt the Commonwealth government has the capacity to implement or enforce any of these “requirements” given it neither runs schools nor employs teachers.
Furthermore, most of these measures are already in place at state or school level. The Commonwealth entering the fray with its own versions and conditions could further blur responsibilities in the already contested and opaque schooling sphere. It would also redirect attention and resources from classrooms as teachers, schools and system authorities seek to demonstrate how their pre-existing programs meet Commonwealth requirements. I made these same critiques in relation to the many conditions of the National Plan for School Improvement put forward by Labor in 2013.
I’m not alone with these concerns. Since my wrap of the school funding announcements was published a week ago, the National Catholic Education Commission and the Australian Primary Principals Associations have each raised similar concerns on the conditions.
Significantly, these conditions are proposed despite the Coalition’s critique of Labor’s policy conditions in its education grants and despite the Coalition’s rhetoric about making the states sovereign in their own spheres.
As I outlined in a paper last year Schooling federalism: Evaluating the Options for reform – each Commonwealth has increased the depth and scope of its involvement in schooling – despite evidence here and abroad, suggesting the states are much better placed to develop and implement school funding and programs. Even the Gonski Review said the Commonwealth should back off the minutiae and respect the states’ experience and expertise.
Finally, the kicker: the growth in school funding between 2015/16 and 2019-20 under this new indexation rate is estimated to be 26.5%. This is significantly lower than the 66.1% growth in Commonwealth funding for schools between 2004/05 and 2013/14. These figures are all on page 14 of the government’s own report. The devil is truly in the detail. And I will continue to examine more of these details as they emerge.
So what will schools and states get under the Coalition’s promised $73.6 billion Student Achievement Plan?
Smaller funding increases and more conditions and tests, which I doubt will improve learning or outcomes for Australian school students.
Bronwyn Hinz is a Policy Fellow with the Mitchell Institute for Education Policy at Victoria University, where she specialises in schooling, early childhood and federalism. Bronwyn’s PhD examined how federalism has shaped the reform of school funding policies at State and Commonwealth levels. This was jointly supervised by the School of Social and Political Sciences and the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, at the University of Melbourne, and submitted January 2016.
She has previously worked for the Education Foundation, the Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria, two federal politicians, and the University of Melbourne, where she taught public policy making and Australian politics. She has been a Visiting Scholar at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City, where she undertook comparative research on intergovernmental institutions, school funding and education policy-making in the United States and in Canada.
Her research has won multiple national and international awards and her analysis frequently appears in print and broadcast media. Her first book, Many Hopes, One Dream, was published by Australian Scholarly Publishing in 2009 and launched by former prime minister Malcolm Fraser. More recently she wrote the chapter on education policies for the 2014 edition of Australian Social Policy published by Oxford University Press, co-authored a major report on early childhood education, and represented Australia at international symposiums on federalism and schooling organised by the Forum of Federations and UNESCO.
This post is an edited and updated extract from her personal blog www.bronwynhinz.com
Follow Bronwyn on Twitter @bronwynhinz