Gonski: more important than ever

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The AEU is calling on state and territory governments to stand firm against Malcolm Turnbull’s plans to scrap needs-based Gonski funding after 2017.

The ‘I Give a Gonski’ community campaign has increased public awareness of schools funding inequities and the need to ensure that schools have the resources to educate every child.

The Gonski campaign is continuing and the focus now shifts to the states and territories as the Federal Government tries to negotiate a new funding agreement, and to the Senate, which will need to stand firm and block any changes to the Australian Education Act that reduce schools funding.

State and territory education ministers will meet with Education Minister Simon Birmingham on Friday, December 16th, to discuss schools funding, and the AEU is calling on them to stand firm and reject cuts to Gonski.

AEU Federal president Correna Haythorpe says the ongoing campaign builds on the efforts of the thousands of parents, educators and community members who worked to make Gonski an issue during the federal election campaign.

“Educators who are seeing the benefits of Gonski first hand know how important it is that we continue our campaign to secure this funding,” says Haythorpe.

An AEU delegation of principals, parents and teachers visited Canberra in September to meet federal MPs and tell them why the benefits flowing from Gonski must be continued.

Principals from disadvantaged schools told of how extra resources were being used to change the lives
of their students.

Rebecca Hack, principal of Berserker Street State School, a highly-disadvantaged school in Rockhampton told MPs that Gonski had enabled the school to develop a six-month intensive training program for new teachers, to equip them to deal with students with disability or who had suffered from trauma.

The school has also used the extra funds to provide extra one-to-one support, literacy interventions and speech pathology for students who are behind their peers, as well as laptops for students and running a gifted students program.

The Turnbull Government continues to ignore public support for Gonski and is pushing ahead with its alternative funding plan, which would deny $3.8 billion to schools in 2018 and 2019 alone. Its model effectively ends needs-based funding, with 62 per cent of increased federal funding going to private schools, regardless of their need.

A poll by Essential Media in December found that Australian voters opposed Gonski cuts by a margin of three-to-one.

In addition, the promise the Coalition made in 2013 to fund all students with disability according to their need has been postponed yet again, and now will not happen until at least 2018.

We know that more than 250,000 students with a disability, who need funded support, are not getting it – that’s over half of the total.

We need the federal government to take the lead on ensuring disability is properly funded in our schools, not keep delaying the support that schools and students urgently need.

States must hold firm

The state and territory education ministers met federal education minister Simon Birmingham in September to discuss the distribution of needs-based school funding arrangements and poured cold water on the federal government’s plan. All states except WA said they would oppose any attempt to cut funding.

“The Coalition’s plan would deliver a terrible outcome for public schools, in particular for those with high levels of disadvantage,” says Haythorpe.

“We need all states to stand firm for needs-based funding and not accept any deal which short-changes schools and students.”

Minister Birmingham is doing his best to discredit Gonski, but can offer no firm evidence to back up his claims that it’s been ‘corrupted’ and doesn’t work.

In fact, the Gonski funding that schools across Australia received in 2016 surpassed any previous year. And, it is being distributed according to individual student needs.

The biggest increases have gone to schools in regional areas, schools with high numbers of low-SES students, Indigenous students, students with disabilities, and students from non-English speaking homes.

The NSW, Victorian and Queensland governments have announced their Gonski allocations for 2017. In NSW, schools will receive an extra $219 million while in Victoria, schools will get another $358 million.

Haythorpe says funding for additional teachers and resources is making a huge difference and if the minister has a better strategy for how schools will maintain and extend the results they’re achieving without Gonski needs-based funding, she’d like to hear it.

“The federal government pays lip service to needs-based funding but its plan would mean the most disadvantaged schools will never receive the resources the Gonski Review found that they needed,” she says.

Birmingham has said he wants to redistribute funding between states but this would just mean shifting funding from one under-funded public school system to another, and not add a single extra educator or program.

The Senate will also play an important role, with any cuts to Gonski likely to require amendments to the Australian Education Act. With Labor and the Greens backing Gonski, that means the crossbenchers may have a big say in how schools are funded.

So far, Gonski has the support of the Nick Xenophon Team and independent Senator Jacqui Lambie, which will make it very difficult for Malcolm Turnbull to end Gonski after 2017.

If Senators voted against Gonski they would be going against the wishes of voters. A poll taken after the election by The Australia Institute found that 64 per cent of Australians wanted the Senate to vote to retain Gonski.

Keeping the pressure on

The funding situation is so dire that David Gonski himself pledged to donate his own money to disadvantaged public schools in NSW, and has persuaded other philanthropists to join him. This announcement should be a wake-up call that that all public schools should have their needs met by government, not by charity.

A lack of resources affects everything a school needs or tries to do for its students, whether it is professional development for teachers or investment in support programs to give students their best chance to succeed.

The Gonski Review recommended that all schools be lifted to a minimum level of funding by 2019, a benchmark known as the Schooling Resource Standard. At this stage, every state public school system — apart from the ACT — is below the SRS. In some states the average public school is receiving just over 80 per cent of what it needs.

Schools in the NT and Tasmania, which receive more funding from the federal government because their state governments don’t have the resources to meet student needs alone, will simply miss out if the Gonski funding plan is torn up.

In NSW and South Australia, governments know Gonski is working and have promised to fund their share of the full six years, regardless of what the federal government does.

Haythorpe says all states need to guarantee their own Gonski funding as part of keeping the pressure on the federal government.

“Investing in education is vital, not just for today but for the future of our workforce,” she says.

“The AEU will continue its campaign for proper, needs-based funding of our schools because we know Gonski is working and schools, students and parents should be able to rely on the certainty of funding which Gonski is delivering,” Haythorpe says.