The Australian Education Union (AEU) is lamenting a lack of progress towards ending what it describes as the underfunding of public schools, despite the Albanese Government being warned the matter is “urgent and critical”.
The AEU said it has been revealed that the Albanese Government and each State and Territory government signed bilateral agreements – without publicity – in November and December 2023, extending the current funding arrangements until December 2024.
This means public schools will remain underfunded by between $6.2 and $6.5 billion a year, according to a report by education economist Adam Rorris, released in November 2023.
AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe said it was deeply disappointing that there would be no change in 2024 to the unacceptable position that only 1.3% of public schools across Australia are funded to the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS), the minimum level governments agreed a decade ago was required.
“At the end of October, all governments were told by the Expert Panel they established that fully funding public schools was urgent and a critical prerequisite for improving student learning and wellbeing,” she said.
“Yet only weeks later, education ministers signed agreements for 2024 that deliver no increase in the Commonwealth share of the SRS and either no increase in the state and territory shares or very small increases,” she said.
Ms Haythorpe said the challenges facing schools are too great and the cost of inaction too high for governments to continue to fail on funding.
“Only the 1.3% of public schools in the ACT are fully funded and NSW is the only state with a commitment to actually get public schools to 100% of the SRS (by 2029).
“By contrast, the extended agreements ensure that private schools in every state and the ACT will be funded at or above 100% of their SRS in 2024,” she said.
According to Ms Haythorpe, the Prime Minister promised to work with State and Territory governments to deliver full funding of public schools.
“He must deliver on that commitment this year and ensure all public schools are funded at 100% of the SRS by 2028, at the latest. As the Expert Panel found, funding gaps are fuelling unacceptable achievement gaps between students from different backgrounds and locations. Secondary students from disadvantaged backgrounds are six times more likely to be low performers than those from advantaged backgrounds,” she said.
New bilateral agreements are expected be negotiated in December 2024.
“New bilateral agreements this year must deliver full, not fake, funding for public schools,” Ms Haythorpe said.
She said the Albanese Government must lift its contribution from 20% to 25% of the SRS for all states and lift it to 40% for the NT where student disadvantage is greatest.
“The Albanese Government must also stop State and Territory governments artificially inflating the share of funding they are contributing to schools by including non-school spending.
“Accounting tricks in the current agreements artificially inflate funding for public schools in every state and the NT by 4%. That creates a $2 billion a year gap between what governments claim they are spending on public schools and what they are actually spending,” Ms Haythorpe said.