The Canberra Liberals have unveiled a substantial education package, using money not spent on the light rail to invest in special schools, non-government schools and to expand and upgrade Canberra's ageing public school infrastructure.
Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson unveiled an $85 million schools package as part of the Liberal's budget reply on Thursday, which will also be a major part of his pre-election pitch.
Of this, $60 million will go to upgrade government schools, $17.5 million will go to support students with special needs in non-government schools and $7.5 million will go directly to Canberra's four specialised schools.
The Liberals would also honour a commitment to spend $21.5 million to help public schools implement the recommendations of the Shaddock review into students with complex needs and challenging behaviours, as unveiled by the government in this week's Budget. It will also honour funding commitments to expand student places in Gungahlin.
The package is costed over four years with $6 million pledged for this financial year – assuming the Liberals win office in October, and the rest delivered in the outgoing years.
Mr Hanson said the Liberals were putting schools ahead of a tram - but Labor hit back yesterday saying the light rail repayments would not begin until 2018 and the decision to scrap the project would cost money.
Mr Hanson said Labor had lost all credibility on education.
"Although we are a lucky community in many ways, there are too many children facing disadvantage and who are being left behind. When we see a child in a cage and children in our schools that are overflowing and poorly maintained, you know you have a government with the wrong priorities.
"We need more help for children with a disability; we need better prevention and early intervention options for children in crisis …We know that children with high needs across our four specialised schools need as much support as we can provide."
The Woden School, Malkara, Black Mountain and Cranleigh, would receive $4m for infrastructure and capital upgrades while and an additional $1 million each year will go to support extra staffing.
Mr Hanson said the Liberals "would repair the damage done to our public school system by Andrew Barr who when he was education minister closed down 23 Canberra schools, and fix the neglect in maintaining so many of our schools for too long."
"We will work with the directorate and school communities to allocate resources where the need is greatest so that our children are not in overcrowded classrooms or run down school facilities. We support every cent of the existing funding for children in our
public schools who require extra learning support. We will maintain this funding but also provide support to those children in the non-government school system who are being left behind."
On Wednesday, the Catholic Education Office announced its intention to seek the personal intervention of ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr after non-government schools were left out of the Shaddock Safe Schools for All support package.
Mr Hanson cited the Shaddock review panel itself which said "the issue of 'perceived disparity' remains an unnecessary, ongoing, contentious and sometimes divisive one in parts of the ACT community. The Panel urges the ACT government and the non-government sector to work together to promote greater school and community understanding of the regulations of the needs-based SRS model, in regard to additional funding for students with a disability."
The Liberals would provide $5 million per year to support children with special needs in non-government schools.