Funding deals urgent


24 June 2024

Thirteen years after the Gonski Review handed down its recommendations for new school funding architecture in Australia, only 1.3 per cent of public schools are at the minimum benchmark, the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS), which was agreed to by all governments.

For teachers, education support personnel, parents and students, inequity in school funding is evident in public schools every day.

When a school system is denied essential funding, it is the teaching profession that carries the burden. In Australia, that is manifesting in a teacher workforce crisis with escalating and unsustainable workloads and teacher shortages.

Right now, the Commonwealth and state and territory governments are negotiating the parameters of the next national school funding agreement, one that will be set for five years and which must deliver the urgent funding needed for every school.

Quality public education relies on full funding for teachers, staff, specialists, resources and equipment, and teachers and students deserve to have state of the art buildings that are safe and comfortable.

In the Northern Territory, the federal government has signed a statement of intent to spend an extra $737 million in public schools, doubling its contribution to 40 per cent of the SRS.

And in Western Australia, the state and federal governments have agreed to deliver an additional 5 per cent, with a shortened timeline of 2026. Nonetheless, the NT and WA agreements do not achieve full funding. Instead, schools will be funded to 96 per cent of the SRS under those agreements because the state/territory share is artificially inflated by 4 per cent through an added loophole that allowed inclusion of non-school costs not directly related to students’ education such as capital depreciation. What happens next for public school funding is in the hands of prime minister Anthony Albanese.

Best investment

When the prime minister addressed an AEU event celebrating Public Education Day in May, he noted that the negotiations for full and fair funding for public schools were continuing. He also acknowledged that education is “the single best investment” in Australia’s future.

However, the deal on the table from the federal government is for an additional 2.5 per cent to be matched by state governments. This unfortunately does not achieve 100 per cent of the SRS for all public schools across the nation.

New research shows the inadequacy of public school funding.

Australia’s 6,712 public schools are underfunded by $6.5 billion this year and by at least $6.2 billion every year to 2028 (a total of $31.7 billion over five years) while private schools are overfunded by the Commonwealth and state governments above their full funding level by $686 million this year and by a total of $2.1 billion to 2028.

This is why across Australia, teacher shortages are causing classes to be combined or run without a teacher, and full-time teachers are working an average of 52 hours per week, according to the AEU’s State of our Schools survey.

No Budget capital

Capital funding is another area of critical concern.

In 2017, the Coalition government cut capital funding for public schools while increasing it for private schools. Since then, private schools have received
$1.25 billion while public schools have only had the benefit of federal funding for one year with $216 million for capital works in last year’s budget.

The 2024 Federal Budget should have delivered capital works funding but instead it was silent on the issue with the Albanese Government failing to continue even the modest $216 million.

AEU federal president Correna Haythorpe urged the government to reconsider its “unacceptable” decision to abandon this funding while at the same time giving private schools $1 billion for new buildings and facilities over the next four years.

“The public knows there is deep inequity in how public schools are funded compared with private schools and this decision just compounds that inequity,” she says.

Overcoming the challenges

Haythorpe says the challenges in schools have never been greater.

“There’s more diversity and complexity in student need, increasing wellbeing and mental health issues and acute shortages of teachers due to unsustainable workloads,” she says.

“Australia’s principals, teachers and education support staff are doing an extraordinary job, but they are being asked to do too much in an underfunded environment.”

Haythorpe has urged the states and the Australian Capital Territory to finalise the funding agreements with the Commonwealth, ensuring that the funding meets the 100 per cent SRS benchmark.

Disability funding doesn’t measure up

Students with disability and the schools they attend are facing a perfect storm.

The number of students with disability is increasing but changes to the way that the disability loading is delivered means that not all students are receiving the funding required to cater to their needs.

The AEU’s State of our Schools survey of more than 15,000 principals, teachers and support staff found that 89 per cent of principals say they are forced to shift funding from other areas of their already over-stretched budgets to provide the assistance students with disability need.

Eight out of 10 principals and teachers say they have students with disability who are not eligible for federal government funding, despite needing it. Here’s what some of the survey respondents had to say:

“Integration funding is woefully inadequate to meet the needs of our students who qualify for this funding. However, this is often not enough.”
– Primary school, NSW

“We have a Prep student with high needs who will run out of the school and onto the road if not closely monitored. We receive no additional funding for him because he does not yet have a diagnosis.

We allocate 25 hours a week of teacher aide time to this child.”
Primary school, QLD

“Access to specialists for diagnosis for funding is VERY difficult.”
– Secondary school, WA

“[We’re] always trying to balance supporting teachers and students with funding from other areas of the school. – Primary school, SA

“Students with disabilities … never attract funding for full-time assistants. The school has to top up the funding. Rather than go without assistants, I have maintained a staffing debt of approximately $300,000 per year for the past three years.” – City school, ACT

“We spend budgets intended for maintenance on resources for teachers or teacher aide time to support these students to avoid WHS incidents and also to stop other children from being hurt.”
– Primary school, QLD

“For our students on extensive adjustments, they receive about $24,000 per year. They need full
one-to-one support. A teacher assistant costs $46,000 per year. That is a shortfall per student of $22,000. The money provided for support does not cover what is actually required.”

– Primary school, Tas

“Our school is currently $500,000 in deficit due to having to fund extra support staff to assist students who are not funded.”
– Primary school, Vic

“We currently receive $261,739 Integration Funding Support. In order to meet the needs of children who require support to access the curriculum, or to be able to attend school safely we are currently budgeting $600,688.

This is only taking into account SLSO hours. This does not include specialist teacher needs or specialist equipment or casual days needed due to teacher health impacts or hours spent by leaders dealing with the issues.”
– School in major city, NSW

“Disability funding is entirely inadequate. We have wheelchair-bound students requiring assistance with toileting every 20 minutes [but] not entitled to full time support.”
– Primary school, QLD

“Major learning issues such as dyslexia and dysgraphia are not recognised as funded diagnoses yet impact so heavily on children’s learning and social development. Children with ADHD and ODD and OCD are also discounted.”
– Secondary school, SA

Driving home the funding message

The AEU stepped up its For Every Child campaign during May, touring schools and communities in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. Speaking with teachers, education support personnel, principals, students and parents, they shared how full funding could make a difference to their schools.

Hundreds of people signed up to the campaign to show their support and we made sure that public education was in the news with coverage by major media outlets in print, online, radio and television.

Members, parents and community supporters were also encouraged to send a message to the prime minister about the importance of fully funded public schools for our children and teachers. Thousands have contacted him so far, with more pressure needed from the community.

You can email the PM by completing a form at, the For Every Child campaign website.

This article was originally published in the Australian Educator, Winter 2024

By Tracey Evans