Time to lift veil of secrecy on school funding
The government should come clean on the funding implications of its commitments to private schools. Photo: Michele Mossip
The Council of Australian Governments meeting on Friday today presents a good opportunity to end the secrecy on the details of the new school funding model. The meeting comes on the anniversary of the delivery of the Gonski report to the federal government, but we still have no idea of what the government proposes.
The details are being negotiated in secret with state and territory governments and private schools. Government school organisations are excluded from the formal negotiations.
Yet government schools have a vital interest in the outcome. They enrol the vast majority of low socio-economic status (SES), indigenous, disabled, non-English speaking and remote area students at whom the Gonski recommendation for a $6.5 billion funding increase is directed.
No one can seriously believe that the five Liberal state/territory governments are going to give priority to government schools and disadvantaged students. As Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has said, supporting the funding of independent and Catholic schools is ''in our DNA''.
The government should immediately release its proposed model and engage with government school organisations over the details, just as it is with private school groups.
There are many important issues still to be considered.
One is the funding loadings to be applied to low SES, indigenous, disabled, non-English speaking and remote area students. They have received little public discussion, but are critical to the model and to reducing the effects of disadvantage.
Research studies suggest the Gonski report got it wrong on the loadings for low SES students. It proposed a maximum loading of an extra 50 per cent of the national resource standard for each low SES student in schools with more than 75 per cent of students in the lowest SES quarter. Thus, at best a low SES student in a very high SES school would be allocated an extra $5000 if the national resource standard is determined at $10,000 per student.
In contrast, several education cost studies show that the additional expenditure required for low income students is at least double the cost of educating an average student. This would require an additional $10,000 per student.
Similarly, there should be more debate about the loadings for disabled students. The Gonski report did not provide an estimate of these and the government has failed to release any estimates for discussion.
Another major issue that has not been discussed openly is how the federal government plans to ensure that all private schools are funded on a consistent basis without reducing the funding of ''funding maintained''schools. Funding maintained schools are funded at higher rates than other private schools on the same SES score.
The government has committed to increasing funding for all private schools in real terms and that all students will be funded on a consistent basis. This means all schools on the same SES score will be funded at the same rate. It was a recommendation of the Gonski report to overcome the incoherence of the SES funding model whereby schools on the same SES score are funded at different rates. It also means funding maintained schools will get more money, not less.
These commitments imply that private schools currently funded at their SES score rate will have their funding increased to match that of funding maintained schools. For example, Education Minister Peter Garrett's old school, Barker College, could receive a huge increase of the order of $8 million a year, based on 2009 figures. Canberra Boys Grammar would gain $5.6 million and Canberra Girls Grammar $5.3 million.
Save Our Schools has estimated that the total windfall gain to private schools from the government's commitments at about $1.9 billion. Medium to high SES private schools would get almost all of this increase. It would be at the expense of disadvantaged students in government and private schools.
This funding would be far better used to meet the educational needs of low SES, indigenous, disabled, non-English speaking and remote area students in government and private schools. It is these students who the Gonski report says should be given priority for future funding increases, not students from higher SES families.
The government should come clean on the funding implications of its commitments to private schools. It should clarify whether it intends to deliver huge funding increases to higher SES private schools.
COAG provides a timely opportunity to engage public debate on these issues before it is too late. The government has delayed releasing the details of its preferred funding model for far too long. It should immediately release them to allow public comment, especially by government school organisations which have been excluded from the process thus far.
Trevor Cobbold is the national convener of Save Our Schools.