SA Education Budget promises just smoke and mirrors

6 September 2018

The Budget announcements by the South Australian Marshall government on education lack detail, prop up NAPLAN instead of investing in enhanced student learning outcomes, and claim credit for funding two new schools which have already been announced by the previous government.

The Marshall government’s closure of seven TAFE campuses across the state also demonstrates its lack of commitment to public vocational education, and signals its eventual plan to walk away from TAFE altogether.

Australian Education Union South Australia Branch President Howard Spreadbury said that yesterday’s Budget announcements on education provide little actual clarity about the Marshall government’s plans for the education sector in the next twelve months.

“When it comes to education, the Marshall government’s first Budget is largely smoke and mirrors,” Mr Spreadbury said.

“Its funding announcements include two schools which were already announced in last year’s Budget. This is a second bite at the cherry by Education Minister John Gardner.”

“Min Gardner also boasts about recurrent education spending increasing by $515 million between 2017-18 and 2021-22 – but this is a comparative figure telling us nothing about spending increases for this year, for the next twelve months. That is what we need to know, and that is what this Budget fails to provide,” Mr Spreadbury said.

“The $20.9 million ‘Literacy Guarantee’ also encompasses numeracy, and quite clearly seems intended to prop up South Australia’s NAPLAN outcomes,” Mr Spreadbury said.

“Min. Gardner should talk to teaching professionals about where that money should be spent, rather than just shovelling it towards propping up NAPLAN. Extra investment in literacy is always welcomed by the teaching profession, however it would rather that those funds are targeted to leaders and teachers to enhance student learning outcomes.”

Mr Spreadbury said the biggest alarm bells in this Budget were reserved for the TAFE sector.

“The biggest loser by far in this budget is TAFE,” Mr Spreadbury said. “The government announced an addition $109 million over five years to support TAFE, however the Treasurer described this as a ‘bail out’.”

“Quite frankly this is offensive to the TAFE sector, to teachers and other TAFE professionals, and to the hundreds of thousands of TAFE graduates who power the engine room of the South Australian economy. Forcing TAFE to compete with private providers for funding is unacceptable,” Mr Spreadbury said.

“In addition, the announcement of the closure of seven TAFE campuses across the state demonstrates the lack of long-term commitment the Marshall government has to TAFE in South Australia.”

“Rather than reinvesting in TAFE, this government plans to carve out $33 million over the next four years through what is described as “operating efficiencies,” Mr Spreadbury said.

“Following the election, Min. Gardner said all the right things about TAFE, that it was the government’s social responsibility to provide vocational education opportunities for all South Australians.”

“However this Budget does not reflect that. This Budget makes it clear that the Marshall government wants to walk away from TAFE in the longer term,” Mr Spreadbury said.

Mr Spreadbury also said the Budget provided no clarity about where money from the Gonski funding agreement with the Commonwealth had been allocated.

“Where is the Marshall government hiding Gonski funding in the Budget?” Mr Spreadbury said.

“Has it struck an agreement with the Commonwealth about school funding? If so, what has it signed up to under the National School Reform Agreement? What split of funds will go to the Catholic and Independent school sectors, as opposed to public schools?”

“How will South Australia meet its Schooling Resource Standard commitments for public schools? These are all important questions for which we have no answers,” Mr Spreadbury said.

Mr Spreadbury said the Education Council meeting next week in Adelaide, the first under new Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan, would be crucial for determining future funding levels for South Australian public schools.