Gonski Battle Continues

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3 October 2016

The AEU’s campaign for the full six years of Gonski funding will continue, building on the gains made during the Federal Election campaign, as we fight Malcolm Turnbull’s plans to scrap Gonski after 2017.

The campaign is more important than ever, as the Turnbull Government attempts to push state governments on a new funding deal, and then get it passed through the Senate.

AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe said that the fight for needs-based Gonski funding was vital to ensure all children could get the help they needed at school.

“We will continue our campaign for proper, needs-based funding of our schools because we know Gonski is working and extra resources are going to disadvantaged schools.

“Thousands of schools are delivering improved results because they are at last able to give their students more one-to-one support, smaller classes, literacy and numeracy programs or time with a speech therapist.”

In the past week we have seen several smokescreens from the Coalition around cutting funding for individual states and for private schools, all of which are designed to divert attention from its funding agenda.

The Coalition is still yet to present a final funding proposal to the states. But the plan outlined in the Federal Budget in May would remove needs-based funding, strip $3.9 billion from schools in 2018 and 2019 alone, and ensure that many schools never reach minimum resource standards.

Under the Coalition’s plan 62 per cent of the additional federal funding after 2017 will go to private schools – regardless of their level of need.

That’s not a system that serves the interests of our most disadvantaged schools and their students, and should not be supported.

The Coalition’s narrow election victory, its failure to control the Senate and strong public awareness and support for Gonski will make it tougher for Malcolm Turnbull to end Gonski after 2017.

So far only WA has publicly supported the new funding model, and all other states have expressed their opposition to funding cuts.

In addition, the Coalition will need to get amendments to the Australian Education Act passed by the Senate if it is to change funding formulas after 2017.

Gonski is now supported by Labor, the Greens, the Nick Xenophon Team and independent Senator Jacqui Lambie – enough votes to stop any changes to the legislation.

Gonski campaign won votes

The AEU’s “I Give a Gonski” campaign raised awareness of schools funding as an issue during the 2016 election and helped reduce the Coalition’s margin.

The campaign targeted 17 seats during the lead-up to the election, with a local co-ordinator in each seat working to lift awareness of Gonski and help schools tell their communities how Gonski funding was helping them.

Thousands of volunteers took the time to be involved in doorknocking, events at schools and spreading word of Gonski’s success to their local communities.

Principals and other educators helped by publicising their school’s ‘Gonski stories’ and letting people know the difference that increased resources made to them.

Ms Haythorpe said the grassroots campaign was based on the commitment of thousands educators and parents who were willing to spread the word on Gonski, and let their communities know why it matters.

“Educators and parents are seeing the benefits of Gonski first hand and during the election campaign they stepped up to fight for it,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“Gonski needs-based funding remains vital for the future of our schools and their students. It is the only way that our students will be able to get the support they need.

In addition, the AEU ran advertisements on free-to-air and pay TV in NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory — highlighting the effect the Coalition’s cuts would have on schools.

There was a strong swing against the Coalition in almost every one of the target seats, especially those in outer-suburban and regional areas, where public education is a major issue.

In Eden-Monaro, Lindsay and Macquarie, winning Labor candidates specifically mentioned Gonski as a key issue.

Gonski makes a name for itself

As well as ensuring that Labor and the Greens went to the election backing the full Gonski, the AEU’s campaigning has lifted awareness of the importance of needs-based funding.

Exit polling by SKY News on election day found that education was the second biggest concern for voters (63% rated it as very important) behind Medicare and health (72%) and ahead of economic management (51%).

Awareness of Gonski among Australian voters rose from 45% in 2014 to 66% in August 2015. By April 2016, a poll of target seats showed that 84% of voters were aware of Gonski.

Support for needs-based funding was also high. AEU polling in NSW marginal seats just before the election found that:

▪61.6% supported Gonski, compared with just 17.4% who opposed it (21% undecided)

▪63.4% preferred investment in schools to Malcolm Turnbull’s cuts to company tax (36.6%)

▪51.5% were “very aware” of Malcolm Turnbull’s plans to cut Gonski funding after 2017, and another 29.8% were “somewhat aware”

We know that Gonski has the backing of the majority of Australians. The challenge now is to ensure that we build on the momentum we have generated, and keep those high levels of support and awareness for Gonski in the community.

It is crucial that we do so because the Coalition’s alternative funding model to Gonski would deliver a terrible outcome for public schools, in particular those with high levels of disadvantage.

We will keep fighting to ensure that Gonski remains a key political issue, because we know needs-based funding is the best way to ensure that all schools get the resources they need to give all their students the education they deserve.