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Birmingham prepares for fundamental changes to Labor’s Gonski funding model

Simon Birmingham said the government would work with the states for a new post-2017 deal ‘tied to evidence-based school improvement initiatives’. Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Education Minister Simon Birmingham has released figures to prepare the way for a major overhaul of federal funding for schools, arguing that the Gillard government’s version of the Gonski model has produced distorted and inequitable differences between states.

On the government’s numbers, in 2017 government schools in Tasmania will attract 40% more Commonwealth funding than comparable schools in Western Australia with the same need.

Among other inequities, the government says that in 2014 a Victorian Catholic systemic school attracted more than double the Commonwealth funding per student than a similar school in NSW. An ACT independent school in 2014 received 64% more federal funding per student than a comparable WA school.

If present arrangements continued, between 2017 and 2019 Commonwealth funding to government schools in WA would have increased by only 0.6% percentage points relative to their funding standard, while government schools in Victoria would have increased by 6.7 percentage points.

A new post-2017 model will be discussed on Friday in Adelaide by federal, state and territory education ministers.

The government says the distortions to the Gonski model have been caused by special deals the federal Labor government put in place, as well as the different historical contexts across the country.

Next year is the last year of the funded agreements that were struck in the wake of Gonski by Labor and the Coalition government. The ALP struck six year deals with some states but the final two years were not in the forward estimates.

Birmingham has said he intends to replace the special deals spread across 27 different funding models with a “simpler and fairer” model for all states.

To make its case the government has produced a cameo of a hypothetical school and compared the funding it would receive in different jurisdictions.

The cameo is a combined government school with 700 students, 85% of them in the bottom quartile of socioeconomic status, and 10% in the second quartile. A metropolitan school, it has 25 indigenous students and 20 with a disability.

In NSW such a school in 2017 will get $3236 in Commonwealth funding (17.6% of the total funding standard). The figures for the other states and territories are: Victoria, $3130 (17.1%); Queensland, $3294 (17.9%); South Australia, $2897 (15.8%); Western Australia $2649 (13%); Tasmania $3366 (18.3%); ACT, $2942 (16%); and the Northern Territory, $4224 (23%).

Birmingham said the government would work with the states for a new post-2017 deal “tied to evidence-based school improvement initiatives”. It would see funding distribution “informed by need”.

Federal government school funding will grow from $16 billion in 2016 to $20.1 billion in 2020. “We will be working to ensure that funding is distributed fairly and according to need so that schools currently delivering valuable programs can continue to do so,” Birmingham said.

He said the government was determined to right the “corruption” of the Gonski report that Bill Shorten as minister in 2013 brought about by special deals.

The new model is not due to be finalised with the states, territories and non-government school authorities until the first half of next year.

Birmingham noted that public schools currently receive significantly more government funding than non-government schools. “On average, total government [Commonwealth and state] funding for a student going to a public school is over $16,000 per year, while the government support for a student attending a non-government school is $9300 – more than 40% less.”

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