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Pyne abandons Gonski model

The government says it will retain Labor's funding levels for school education, but will introduce a new model for distributing the money from the 2015 school year.

PT3M31S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2y7cx 620 349

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne has abandoned his pre-election pledge that every school would receive the same amount of funding under the Coalition as under Labor.

Speaking to reporters in Canberra, Mr Pyne refused to reiterate his promise, made on August 29, that ''you can vote Liberal or Labor and you'll get exactly the same amount of funding for your school''.

Christopher Pyne.

Too busy to talk Gonski: Christopher Pyne. Photo: Andrew Meares

Mr Pyne would say only that the Coalition would match the total ''funding envelope'' offered by Labor, meaning some individual schools could receive less funding under the Coalition than they had been promised under Labor.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Pyne said he was too busy to meet the expert panel that devised the so-called Gonski school funding model to discuss how it worked before he discarded it.

''I have to do what’s right for the Australian taxpayer and for Australian students,'' Mr Pyne said at a later media conference on Tuesday.

Mr Pyne said states that reached agreements with Labor before the election should not have relied upon the extra funding Labor had promised in the fifth and sixth years of the agreement, because despite saying before the election it was on a ''unity ticket'' with Labor on school funding, the Coalition had not committed to match the funding beyond four years.

Mr Pyne said the Coalition would bring forward its plans to introduce a new funding model in order to cover a $1.2 billion budget shortfall.

In its pre-election economic statement, Labor returned funding that had been earmarked for the states that did not sign up to the new system to consolidated revenue.

''The government's responsibility is to fix that problem,'' Mr Pyne said.

''Because of the $1.2 billion Shorten cut, we have to bring forward our plans and I am happy to bring forward those plans.''

Mr Pyne said the Coalition would stick with the agreed arrangements for 2014 but would introduce a new funding model from 2015.

In a move that has angered the nation’s two most populous states and concerned a member of the panel, Kathryn Greiner, Mr Pyne declared the Gonski needs-based model a ‘‘shambles’’ and promised to go ‘‘back to the drawing board’’ to create a new system.

Mr Pyne is due to meet state education ministers on Friday.

Government attacked

NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell has been highly critical of the federal Coalition government for abandoning its school funding agreement with the states, saying they should stop acting like the opposition.

"Can I just make this point to the federal Education Minister," he said. "In all my years in politics, I have worked out that it is best to have respectful discussions and consultations in private, not through the media.

"And secondly, when you move into government, you have got to stop behaving like an opposition.

"This issue has been escalated because of the poor way in which it has been handled and that is not acceptable when we are talking about the education of future generations of Australians."

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten called on Mr Pyne to "rule out that any schools will be worse off".

"What we are now hearing from the Coalition is they are not committing to needs-based education," Mr Shorten told reporters outside a Catholic school in Sydney.

"This is not the government that they told Australians they would be before the election.

"This is a looming argument between a Coalition government who misled voters and it's an argument now with the parents and the teachers, 3.6 million school children."

'Flatter, simpler, fairer'

Mr Pyne told ABC Radio on Tuesday the government would ‘‘stick with what we’ve got’’ for the 2014 school year but wanted to move to a ‘‘flatter, simpler, fairer structure’’ after that.

He said the Coalition was committed to the same quantum of funding as Labor over the next four years.

But despite saying before the election that the Coalition and Labor were on a ‘‘unity ticket’’ on school funding, Mr Pyne said the Abbott government was not committed to the escalation of funding Labor had promised over six years.

‘‘Our election policy was that we would support a four-year agreement ... we won’t be honouring a six-year agreement,’’ he said.

‘‘There’s no year five or year six in the Coalition’s funding agreement.’’

Mr Pyne said there was no reason for schools to fear they would receive less funding over the next four years and he defended the Howard government’s socioeconomic status funding model – which remains in place – which he said was also needs-based.

Asked whether he was prepared to meet the Gonski panel, Mr Pyne said he was too busy.

‘‘No, I’ve studied the Gonski model closely and I have to get on with the job of being the education minister,’’ he said.

‘‘I think we’ve had a lot of talk, a lot of conferences, a lot of reports, a lot of analysis of those reports, we’ve had an election campaign, we’ve had election policies from both sides. It’s time for the government to be allowed to get on with the job and that’s exactly what I intend to do.’’

Howard model 'broken'

Gonski panel member Ms Greiner said she was disappointed that Mr Pyne would not meet the panel, and was concerned that the Coalition would not commit to six years of funding.

She contradicted Mr Pyne’s characterisation of the socioeconomic status model, which she described as ‘‘very broken’’.

‘‘It was opaque, it was not transparent, it was confusing. It was, in fact, a beggar’s muddle,’’ she told ABC radio.

She said the ‘‘flatter, simpler, fairer’’ structure Mr Pyne said he wanted could not meet the individual needs of students.

‘‘It’s much more complicated than that,’’ she said.

NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli rejected Mr Pyne’s criticism of the Gonski model, which he said was ‘‘fair and transparent’’.

‘‘It is a much fairer way of funding schools,’’ he told ABC Radio on Tuesday.

‘‘People have agreed to it and we don’t want to go through another three-year process of unravelling it all.’’

Mr Piccoli acknowledged the federal budget was under pressure but said NSW had committed to additional funding over six years in return for the Commonwealth’s promise of greater resources over the same period.

‘‘We’re all under the same financial pressures,’’ he said.

Coalition governments divided

The Victorian government has also urged the Commonwealth to honour the schools funding deal it reached while federal Labor was in power.

A Victorian government spokeswoman insisted on Monday that a $12.2 billion deal had been reached guaranteeing ‘‘record levels of funding and an unprecedented six years of funding certainty’’ for schools in Victoria.

‘‘Victoria made it clear that, along with Victorian schools and school communities, we expect the Commonwealth to honour this funding, which was agreed to on 4 August 2013,’’ the spokeswoman said.

Queensland has also joined the chorus of states concerned about school funding, saying it expects the federal government to deliver on a promised $1.9 billion.

‘‘It’s about $1.9 billion over the forward forecasts and we’re continuing to negotiate with them about the best way to get that money and get it into the schools,’’ Queensland Treasurer Tim  Nicholls told ABC radio on Tuesday.

‘‘What we really want to talk about now is making sure we can get as much of that money into the schools and not into administration.’’

But the Coalition minister has signalled he wants to set up a revised national funding model.

West Australian Education Minister Peter Collier said the federal government should rip up any education funding agreements it has with other states.

‘‘It is necessary to reassess the situation, and look at a fair and equitable distribution of wealth,’’ Mr Collier said. ‘‘The original offer to WA ... was insulting and piecemeal compared to other states.''

On Monday South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill said the state had finalised an agreement with the Commonwealth.

‘‘Remember what we’re talking about here. Something like $1 billion is at risk,’’ he said. ‘‘We now know there is a massive difference between Labor and Liberal on school funding and the Liberal Party are retreating now on better funding for our public schools and private schools in South Australia.’’

Meanwhile, Melbourne Catholic Education Office executive director Stephen Elder said he was still involved in ‘‘arduous’’ negotiations about funding for Catholic schools with the Victorian government.

‘‘In addition, the Victorian government has foreshadowed another funding review on the back of two years of Gonski negotiations,’’ he said.

Victorian Education Minister Martin Dixon said 2014 would be a year of ‘‘limited change’’.  

‘‘The Victorian government, over many years, has worked with the non-government schools sectors to update local school funding arrangements and this long-standing process will continue,’’ he said.

Australian Education Union Victorian deputy president Justin Mullaly said schools had been denied certainty about future funding.

‘‘We have a deal between the [former] Commonwealth and Victorian governments that Minister Pyne shouldn’t walk away from,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s critical that schools aren’t just limping from year to year.’’

Mr Mullaly said children with the greatest needs in state schools could get the support they needed with ‘‘additional investment’’.

‘‘To remove any promise on delivering on that is fundamentally undermining the education that students will receive.’’

With Jonathan Swan, Benjamin Preiss, AAP

 

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