Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has brought school funding to the fore of Labour’s election campaign by committing to fully fund the Gonski reforms in a package that will cost $4.5 billion over school years 2018 and 2019 and a total of $37.3 billion a decade.
The Coalition has so far only committed to fund four years of Gonski, not the full six years. Labour has also promised to reverse the $30 billion reduction to school funding over the next decade revealed by the Coalition in its 2014 budget.
Entitled Your Child. Our Future, Labor’s education plan has set key benchmarks that indicate by 2020 it will ensure 95 per cent Year 12 (or equivalent) completion and by 2025 Australia will return to the top 5 countries in reading, maths and science.
Despite admitting there are some instances around the country where the implementation of Gonski funding has improved outcomes in schools, Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said the government does not believe increased funding automatically improves educational and student outcomes. The government has refused to commit to the final two years of Gonski funding.
“So what we need to focus on, and what the Turnbull Government has been focussing on, are the things that matter in relation to improving student performance: the right curriculum in schools, the best quality in our teachers, the engagement of parents, [and] the autonomy of school communities to be able to set a course that’s relevant to their school,” Birmingham said.
“The opportunity to create the right type of environment to meet the innovation challenges of the future, to create an entrepreneurial spirit, to ensure people are studying science and maths and technology and engineering – skills that will equip them for the future – these are the things we should focus on first. And in those areas that we know will actually make a difference to student outcomes and school performance, you then make funding decisions as to how you support them.”
Federal President of the Australian Education Union (AEU), Correna Haythorpe, welcomed Labor’s plan and said Gonski funding is the only way to ensure all children have a chance to make the most of their potential.
“The education of our children is too important to be a partisan political issue,” she said. “We need [Prime Minister] Malcolm Turnbull to back the full Gonski, not just stick to [Former Prime Minister] Tony Abbott’s policy of ending needs-based funding after 2017 and cutting real funding to schools.
“Minister Birmingham needs to recognise that Gonski is delivering results in the States where funding is going straight to schools. He and Malcolm Turnbull have a stark choice – do they continue investing in programs that are helping students, or do they abandon them?”