The end of the 2013 school year will also see the end of the current Socio-Economic Status (SES) funding model for non-government schools in Australia. The SES model was introduced by the Howard Government in 2001 and has for the past 13 years been an effective mechanism for the allocation of Commonwealth funding to independent schools.
Despite many vocal critics, the SES model was student-focused and based on need. It was transparent and simple, and relied totally on objective Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data. As schools are already discovering, any argument that the "Better Schools Plan" funding model (so-named by the former Labor Government) is less complex and more transparent than the SES model is very hard to accept.
The SES model was strongly defended by Liberal National Governments whilst the ALP and the Greens were often openly hostile. History will record that despite this, the SES model was applied throughout the entire time of the Rudd/Gillard Governments. Julia Gillard would have to agree that changing school funding models is not an easy task.
There has been widespread public debate about the so-called "Gonski" funding model to be introduced from next year, but less well known is that another important part of previous school funding models also disappears at the end of 2013.
Under the Better Schools Plan arrangements, funding delivered separately to schools through Targeted Programs and National Partnerships will be incorporated into the "Gonski" funding model.
Various Targeted Programs have come and gone over the years, others have been rebadged.
The vast majority of Targeted Programs have been for the benefit of disadvantaged students such as the National Equity Program for Schools (under the Keating Government). There have been programs very narrowly targeted at specific policy issues (such as studies of Asia and the needs of gifted and talented students) whilst others almost became annual recurrent funding for some schools (the long-running former Disadvantaged Schools Program).
Under the Rudd and Gillard Governments, National Partnerships (NPs) became a favoured vehicle for targeted funding. NPs were designed around desired outcomes with the Australian Government lessening its control over inputs underpinned by the view that education authorities could decide how best to spend the funds, so long as certain outcomes were achieved.
Not surprisingly, many Targeted Programs were highly politicised. They were used to drive Government initiatives or respond to the demands of lobby and pressure groups around particular educational issues.
Government funding for independent schools under the "Gonski" model will incorporate various loadings (Indigenous, students with disabilities, low socio-economic, location and size and English language proficiency) and it is through those loadings that schools will now directly receive funding to assist various targeted groups of students.
This new mechanism is largely based on the recommendations of the Review of Funding for Schooling undertaken by David Gonski. The review recommended "in contributing towards the additional costs of educating disadvantaged students, governments should move away from funding targeted programs and focus on ensuring that the States and Territories and the non-government sector are publicly accountable for the educational outcomes achieved by students from all sources of funding".
There are a number of concerns with these new funding arrangements for disadvantaged students, including the challenge for schools to properly resource programs and staffing for these students from all sources of funding. This will not be an easy task in an environment where there are many competing demands for scarce resources. The receipt of "tied" funding in the past required schools to expend it on the targeted group; in the future schools will make their own decisions about the allocation of resources.
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