States told to pay a third of school funding reform

The Prime Minister Julia Gillard today unveiled the government’s plan to overhaul school funding. AAP Image/Lukas Coch

The states are being asked to pay for one third of the ambitious Gonski school funding program, which would inject a total of $14.5 billion extra across the public and private school sectors over the next six years.

Outlining the details of Commonwealth’s two-for-one offer, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said her government was willing to provide $9.4 billion, along with higher indexation than would otherwise be the case.

The government says it will commit to an annual growth in school education spending of 4.7% – provided states commit to a 3% growth rate.

The new schools funding plan involved “the biggest changes to school funding in 40 years”, the Prime Minister said.

But the premiers of Western Australia and Queensland immediately slammed the blueprint with WA’s Colin Barnett saying he would have to be “nuts” to sign up because the proposed basic grant would represent a 25 per cent cut on what WA was spending on its state schools.

This indicates that the federal government appears to have no hope of a comprehensive deal when the Council of Australian Governments discusses school funding on Friday. While it is not expecting either WA or Queensland to agree this week, it is cautiously hopeful about NSW. The Labor states are expected to get on board while Victoria, which has become less unco-operative since the change of premier, remains a wildcard.

Another condition on the states would be that they maintain current school spending and stop education cuts and funding freezes.

This specification comes a day after the federal government announced cuts in the tertiary education sector of $2.3 billion over the budget period to help pay for the Gonski package, plus putting a cap on the deduction for self-education expenses.

The states are also being asked to sign up to reforms to improve school performance, including higher standards for teachers and better individual support for students.

Federal and state governments are negotiating this week to try to strike deals. The federal government will sign up any willing states, rather than waiting for them all. While the government wants to get as much progress as possible by Friday’s COAG, the real deadline for signing up is June 30.

The $14.5 billion plan would represent an average of $1.5 million extra per school and extra $4000 per student.

Over the next six years the additional funding for the states and territories would be: NSW, $5 billion; Victoria, $4 billion; Queensland, $3.8 billion; Western Australia, $300 million; South Australia, $600 million; Tasmania $400 million; ACT, $100 million; Northern Territory, $300 million.

Gillard said this was on top of the extra funding which would be secured for the states and territories if they agreed to more stable indexation.

The plan is based, with some variation in the detail, on the Gonski report’s model with a core amount for each student and loadings for disadvantaged students and schools.

The core amount per student would be $9271 for primary students and $12,193 for secondary students. The amounts are based on the average costs of high performing schools.

The plan has loadings for students from low socio-economic backgrounds, indigenous students, those with disabilities, students with poor English, small schools, and schools in remote areas. The precise loading for disability is still being worked out because the data is not yet available.

The change would be phased in over six years. Of the total extra money, the government school sector would get $12.1 billion, the Catholic sector $1.4 billion and the independent sector $1 billion.

Gillard said that there would be a crisis in school funding without the agreement.

Barnett, describing the proposal as a terrible deal for his state, said the PM needed to explain why NSW would get 16 times more funding than WA. He said Gillard was effectively in a self-imposed caretaker period from now until the September election and no state would be wise to sign up to major policy.

Queensland premier Campbell Newman said the states were being asked to massively increase their funding but had not been properly consulted.

SA premier Jay Weatherill said his government shared the federal government’s agenda and was “working very hard” to get agreement.

Victorian education minister Martin Dixon criticised the federal government for providing information through the media rather than in the negotiations. He said federal government funding was always welcome but the state didn’t want to be held to ransom over how it was spent. There was a lot of work to be done between now and Friday.

NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said the state government had constructively supported Gonski and would continue to work constructively with the Commonwealth “to turn this review into an opportunity for all of our students.”

Federal Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne said the package delivered only about $600 million a year in “new education money”, or one tenth of what was expected and even then, it looked like Labor would force the states to pay for this.

He said Labor had announced cuts to universities and other program changes, with funding delays and broken promises, which were worth at least $11 billion . “This means that Labor has effectively announced a $1.6 billion cut to education funding over the next six years - they will save $11 billion and spend $9.4 billion.”

Gillard gave an assurance that the school kids bonus would not be touched in the budget.

For detail of the package see www.betterschools.gov.au