Federal Politics

EXCLUSIVE

Labor commits to fully funding Gonski as part of election year education reform plan

Labor has set up an election year school funding battle by promising to pump $4.5 billion into the nation's schools by fully funding the Gonski funding agreements it struck when last in office.

The party has also pledged, if it wins power, to reverse the $30 billion reduction to school funding over the next decade revealed by the Coalition in its 2014 budget. 

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Education funding battle recommences

Labor commits to fully funding the Gonski education reforms, but the Government questions the funding. Courtesy ABC News 24.

With Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull soaring in the polls, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is attempting to shift the focus to education - one of the party's traditional strengths. 

When the Coalition came to power in 2013 it announced it would only fund the first four years of Labor's six-year school funding deals. State governments have lobbied hard against the move given the biggest increases in spending were contained in years five and six.

Mr Shorten confirmed for the first time on Thursday that Labor will honour the full six years of funding deals with NSW, Victoria, the ACT, South Australia and Tasmania - giving the states funding certainty until 2020. 

Agreements with the states that did not sign on to Gonski would be negotiated if Labor wins government, a spokesman said. 

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The policy is expected to cost an extra $4.5 billion over 2018 and 2019, with the total package expected to cost $37.3 billion over the decade. 

Labor's announcement was welcomed by the public, Catholic and independent school sectors.

Despite going to the 2013 election promising a unity ticket with Labor on school education, the Abbott government announced in its 2014 budget it would limit school funding increases by linking them to inflation rather than the more generous formula in the Gonski legislation. Most of Labor's new long-term spending comes from reversing this decision.

Labor will also provide $320 million in additional funding for students with disability for three years from 2017 while working with the states on a new disability loading.

The spending will be paid for through previously announced policies such as increases in the tobacco excise, tightening superannuation concessions, a crackdown on multinational tax avoidance and scrapping a new $1000 baby bonus for couples with a stay-at-home parent. 

By 2020, Labor wants 95 per cent of students to be completing Year 12 and to return Australia to the top five countries in reading, maths and science by 2025.

"Australian schooling is going backwards internationally and this presents an immense threat to Australia's future economic and social prosperity," Mr Shorten said.

"Talk about innovation without a commitment to quality education is just talk. 

"Every Australian child should have the same chance of succeeding at school as any other child in the country – no matter what their background, no matter where they live, and no matter what type of school they go to."

Labor education spokeswoman Kate Ellis said the money would come with strings attached.

"We expect the state governments to keep to their side of the deal and that we expect that that money will be used in a transparent and accountable fashion on the programs that our students need the most," she said. 

Education Minister Simon Birmingham accused Labor of spending money recklessly and said the Coalition would negotiate new four-year funding deals for 2018 onwards with the states.

"Unlike the Labor Party, we won't be tricked into thinking that just spending more money automatically improves results," he said.

"What we will do is make sure that any funding commitments the Turnbull government make are commitments driven by how you improve student outcomes, by how you actually get the best results in the classroom from students.

"We won't promise money first and then seek to negotiate outcomes later."

Victorian Education Minister James Merlino welcomed Mr Shorten's announcement, but refused to guarantee that Victoria would fund the final two years of the agreement. 

He said a review of school funding by former premier Steve Bracks, which is currently being considered by the state government, would inform funding decisions from 2018.

"We welcome today's announcement from the federal Opposition, which once again shows that only Labor can be trusted with our children's education," he said.

NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said: "Whilst I welcome it, Labor did promise to fund six years of Gonski while they were in government last but never budgeted for it. I have my doubts as to whether they have the fiscal discipline to keep their promise this time as well.

"What is certain is that NSW has committed its share of Gonski funding, has budgeted for it and has the fiscal discipline to deliver for students."

Australian Education Union President Correna Haythorpe said: "This funding is an investment which will ensure that all schools will have the resources they need to give their students a quality education.

"If Malcolm Turnbull is serious about innovation and educating all kids to their potential he will support this in full."

The Independent Schools Council of Australia welcomed the prospect of "predictability and stability" for funding post-2017. 

Former education minister Christopher Pyne said Labor had left the school funding system in a "shambles" when it came to office and the government had delivered a national model by providing $1.2 billion to Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

with Henrietta Cook, Eryk Bagshaw

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