In this marathon federal election campaign, it is heartening to see school education emerge as a key area of focus and to have the time to digest the education policies already released by both major parties.
The Federal Coalition’s schools’ policy, Quality Schools, Quality Outcomes, released as part of the 2016-17 Budget, has a strong focus on reform and ensuring that government funding is utilised to drive improvements in student outcomes. It notes “research shows there is no automatic link between high per student funding and student outcomes, but that improved outcomes are driven by policies and reforms both in the school and in the wider education system”.
As widely expected, the ALP has committed to years five and six of the “Gonski” funding model at an additional cost of $4.5 billion for 2018 and 2019. The ALP has also pledged to deliver the Gonski funding “on time and in full” allocating an additional $37.3 billion over the decade 2015-16 to 2025-26.
The long-term commitment of funding to 2025-26 is questionable given there will be at least a further three federal elections before that date and the forward estimates for government spending only ever extend to three years beyond the current budget.
In fact, it was the longer term funding commitment of the previous ALP Government in 2013 which has left us with the contestable issue as to whether or not schools funding is being cut post-2017 by the current government.
The 2016-17 Budget figures clearly debunk the claim about cuts to Australian Government funding for schools. The new Coalition funding policy will result in an additional $1.2 billion in schools funding for the calendar years 2018 to 2020.
The 2016-17 Budget figures show that Commonwealth funding for schools will grow to a record $73.6 billion for the period 2016-17 to 2019-20, a 26.5 percent increase over 2015-16.
Whilst it is true that funding for schools would increase at a faster rate under the ALP’s Your Child. Our Future policy, there are no cuts to federal schools funding through the current budget and the forward estimates period.
Governments of all persuasions need to be mindful that funding growth needs to keep pace with the rising costs of education. The Coalition’s change to future indexation in the Federal Budget is good news for schools.
Commonwealth funding for schools post 2017 will now be indexed by 3.56 percent replacing the previous policy announced in the 2014-15 Budget that schools funding would be indexed by CPI (the rate of 2.5 percent was factored into the forward estimates). The proposed new indexation arrangements better reflect the level of cost increases faced by schools and is achievable within the current budgetary constraints.
It is positive to see that both the ALP and the Coalition have recognised the increasing costs faced by schools supporting the needs of students with disability. The Coalition has committed an additional $118.2 million in funding for students with disability in 2016 and 2017, while the ALP has committed an additional $320 million over three years from 2017.
Additional funding for students with disability has been long sought by independent schools, so this extra commitment by both parties will significantly benefit schools which continue to struggle with the resourcing required for students with disability.
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