ACT Labor will today announce an $18.5 million package for non-government schools - targeting students most in need and funding non-government preschool education for the first time.
ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher will sell the package as Labor's commitment to begin funding all ACT students according to need as part of wider structural reform expected to come out of the federal government's adoption of the Gonski Review.
In a city which has the highest rate of non-government school enrolments in Australia, Ms Gallagher said she wanted an end to the public/private divide and for all students to receive both ACT and federal government funding based on individual need.
The money will be enshrined in an $11 million ''Supporting Non-Government Students'' initiative over four years targeting disadvantage. It will replace a system of ad hoc budget grants of around $2 million each year using money from the now disbanded Interest Subsidy Scheme and will be targeted to help non-government schools cope with a rise in the number of students with disabilities.
That the money was not guaranteed meant the sector could not invest in the ongoing provision for students with disabilities as schools were not assured the money would be forthcoming in subsequent budgets.
The funding is aimed at encouraging greater equity in enrolments across the non-government system.
The funding includes $2.65 million next year, $2.71 million in 2014, $2.77 million in 2015 and $2.83 million in 2016 - totalling $11 million over the next term of government.
The funding will be allocated to students with a disability, as well as to students from indigenous backgrounds, and those with low socio-economic status and low levels of English language proficiency.
Disadvantage will be assessed using both the existing Student Centric Assessment of Need and new Commonwealth measures of disadvantage as they are rolled out as part of the Gonski reforms.
Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said the program would become part of the ACT's contribution to a national needs-based funding system once the Commonwealth implements the recommendations of the Gonski Review.
''ACT Labor believes that education is the right of every child and lifelong learning is the foundation of this city's prosperity in our second century,'' Ms Gallagher said.
Another $5 million will be directed to non-government preschools, with at least 870 students enrolled in private preschools where parents have to pay full fees.
''ACT Labor wants to make sure that all early childhood education, delivered in both the government and non-government sector, continues to provide the high quality early childhood education that the Canberra school system is renowned for,'' Ms Gallagher said.
The third part of today's non-government schools package includes previously announced ICT funding to non-government schools through the $2.5 million Smart School, Smart Student grants over the next four years.
The election commitment will come as welcome news to non-government schools, which have been lobbying all three political parties for better financial recognition.
Last month, the Catholic Education Office launched a grassroots campaign to force the issue in the ACT given historic low levels of non-government funding to Canberra's Catholic school network.
ACT governments of both political persuasion have failed to fund capital works for non-government schools or the provision of non-government preschool education.
The ACT Liberals last month promised a boost for the sector, pledging $31.4 million over four years and delivering a commitment to fund non-government students at 25 per cent of the cost of educating a government school student within two terms of government, or eight years.
Ms Gallagher noted the ACT Liberal non-government education funding would not target disadvantage and flew in the face of the Gonski recommendations.
''We come to the negotiating table with the core belief that there must be fairer funding for every Canberra student,'' Ms Gallagher said.
''The Seselja Liberals do not support this principle. They will not go to the table with a commitment to deliver fairer funding for all students because they don't support the Gonski reforms and they don't believe in funding based on need.
''The Liberals' motivation is to divide our education system into two. We disagree with this divisive approach to education.''