The ghost of the Gonski school funding reforms has haunted the Coalition since 2013 when it resolved not to fund the final two years of the six-year funding model proposed by Labor.
Whether we agree or not with the principles or efficacy of the Gonski model, it is clear the reform has been a painful thorn in the side of the Coalition and a political liability for federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne.
The sheer diversity of political actors and organisations united in the fight for the “missing billions” has seen the reform take on epic proportions. Rightly or wrongly, Gonski has become a potent symbol in the politics of class and in debates over the future of public education.
Despite this, the Coalition government has remained steadfast in its position and the 2015 budget confirms the final two years of Gonski will remain unfunded. Gonski is, it seems, gone.
There are, however, some new splashes of money and some fresh cuts in this year’s budget, which together have consequences for Australian schools. Here are the highlights:
A$1.3 billion in funding to provide extra support for students with a disability, to be informed by the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability.
A$843 million over 2016 and 2017 for preschool programs across Australia as part of the National Partnership Agreement on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education, to be used to provide 15 hours of preschool education per week for every child before they start year one.
The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) will receive an extra A$16.9 million to implement recommendations stemming from the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG) Report. Pyne says this money will be focused on strategies to improve the quality of teacher training, including the introduction of a literacy and numeracy test for initial teacher education students, improving in-class practical elements of teaching degrees and ensuring all graduate primary teachers hold a subject specialisation.
A$5.4 million to extend the Indigenous Boarding Initiative over 2015 and 2016. This is designed to assist non-government boarding schools with large numbers of Indigenous boarding students from remote and very remote areas to meet costs associated with educating these students. Questions have been raised, however, about the logic of funding private schools rather than injecting the funds into public schools in remote areas that cater for the vast majority of Indigenous students.
In terms of cuts, the federal Department of Education will take a A$7.6 million hit, with an additional A$123.4 million in savings to be generated from the department in coming years through terminating or redesigning existing programs. These cuts form part of the Coalition’s “Smaller Government” reform agenda.
The 2015 budget is a mixed bag for schools, with both carrots and sticks offered to the education bureaucracy. Ultimately, however, these minor “budget tinkerings” pale in comparison to the Gonski shadow.
Read more of The Conversation’s Federal Budget 2015 coverage.