SPEECH: Address to the Australian Council of State School Organisations, 5 June 2017




ADDRESS TO THE Australian Council of State School Organisations

MONDAY, 5 JUNE 2017 



Thank you for the opportunity to speak to your board meeting.

Labor’s key objective in our schools reform has always been to ensure that Australia’s public schools are properly and fairly funded.

We understand that this is where the funding is needed most. The public sector educates most of Australia’s disadvantaged kids. We also know that the Commonwealth hadn’t pulled its weight in funding public schools in the past.

Labor’s policy was about getting the most money to the neediest kids.

It’s not just about the dollars, but what the dollars represent in those kids lives.

That funding means extra help in the early years, speech pathology and occupational therapy so kids are ready to learn, and more support for teaching literacy and numeracy.

Labor values the role of public education in ensuring every child in Australia can grow up with the skills they need to access a lifetime of opportunity.

That’s why when we introduced the Australian Education Act, Labor enshrined our values upfront, setting clear objectives and targets. That:

-       All students in all schools are entitled to an excellent education.

-       That the quality of a student’s education should not be limited by where they live, the income of their family, or the school they attend.

-       The first object of our Act was to ‘ensure that the Australian schooling system provides a high quality and highly equitable education for all students’.

You won’t be able to find those objects in the Government’s Bill.

Because they’re not there.


Recommendations from the Gonski review

The original Review of Funding for Schooling found:

-       “Australia needs effective arrangements for funding schools across all levels of government – arrangements that ensure resources are being provided where they are needed… and where the Australian Government and state and territory governments work in partnership to meet the schooling needs of all Australian children.”

The Review also acknowledged that “not all states and systems have the same capacity to fund their school systems adequately”.

The Commonwealth needed to work together with states to make sure that all students received the Schooling Resource Standard – the amount, based on evidence, needed for a student to get a high quality education.

That’s what we did.

Our fundamental principle was that every student, no matter where they lived in Australia, got the resources they needed for a high quality education – a fair proportion of the Schooling Resource Standard.

That’s why Labor’s school funding package ensured that all underfunded schools would receive 95 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard by 2019 (by 2022 for Victorian schools).

What matters most for kids in public schools is their total public resourcing.

Parents aren’t concerned about how much of their school’s funding comes from the state government and how much comes from the Commonwealth, because they know that what really matters, is how much their school gets and what they can deliver with those dollars.

The Turnbull Government’s plan is a fundamental departure from the principles driving the original Gonski review.

Labor’s plan guaranteed that all schools would be funded to their fair share of the SRS. The Liberals’ plan does not.

At the Senate Inquiry on Friday, ACSSO said we need to lock in states and territories to increase their funding and choose a level of total SRS funding that states and territories can afford and make sure we can get there.

That’s what Labor’s plan did.

We locked in states and territories to increase their funding.

We set a target level of funding at 95 per cent of the SRS and ensured all states and territories were on track to get there.

It is the Government that has scrapped those requirements.

And the schools that are most likely to miss out are public schools.

The end point of the Labor model was that all underfunded schools would receive their fair SRS share from total public funding by 2019.

The new end point is for underfunded public schools to receive just 20 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard in Commonwealth funding, with no guarantee of their state or territory government making up the difference.

Public schools won’t even reach this 20 per cent until 2027.

Meanwhile, the Commonwealth will provide 80 per cent of the SRS to private schools.

Even Minister Birmingham gave evidence at Senate Estimates on Thursday that the Government’s plan to provide 80 per cent of the SRS to private schools and 20 per cent to public schools is in no way a recommendation of the original Gonski review.

The 80:20 shares are arbitrary figures decided on by the Government, which reflect the Commonwealth’s historic high funding of non-government schools and significantly lower funding share for public schools.

This contradicts the Gonski review recommendation that the Commonwealth Government assume a greater role in funding government schools and states in relation to non-government schools.

The Government’s proposal will firmly lock into legislation that the Commonwealth will provide 80 per cent of the SRS to private schools.

And just 20 per cent to public schools.

Some people in your organisation have welcomed the Government’s move to cut funding from 24 over-funded private schools.

Labor will support that move and support any measures that improve transparency.

But what this really means is that there are only 24 private schools in the country who will get negative funding growth. Other private schools will maintain their funding level or get even more because of the Government’s commitment that all private schools will receive 80 per cent of the SRS from Commonwealth funding alone.

There are a number of elite private schools who already receive well above the Schooling Resource Standard – they’re over-funded – who will receive windfalls under the government’s package.

Christ Church Grammar School, an elite private school in WA, currently gets total public funded equal to 141 per cent of the SRS, but only 75 per cent comes from the Commonwealth. So to meet the Government’s plan to provide 80 per cent Commonwealth funding to private schools, they’ll receive a funding increase of $6.8 million.

To make matters worse, the Government’s policy enshrines a $22 billion cut to the current legislation and arrangements in place.

This is not political spin.

This is what the Government’s own briefings said.

And I quote, in a confidential document mistakenly given to journalists by the Prime Minister’s office – this is what they don’t want to admit to you – “compared to Labor’s arrangements, this represents a savings of…$22.3 billion…”

Public school providers around the country agree.

-       New South Wales confirmed their public schools will lose $846 million in 2018 and 2019.

-       Victorian public schools $630 million

-       $265 million from South Australian schools

-       $730 million from Queensland public schools

-       $20 million from the ACT

The 2014 Budget papers show the Government’s $30 billion cut to schools funding.

Now they want a pat on the back for not cutting quite as much.

The money they cut?  80 per cent of it was going to public schools.

The smaller amount of money that they’re now putting back in – less than half goes to the public sector.

The means public school students lose.

Public school students are the losers in this equation.

ACSSO’s media release from 2 May said ‘Government funding of education must go where there is true need.’

The elite Lauriston Girls School charges fees of more than $25,000 a year. They’ll get a funding increase of $4,085 per student over ten years.

Tennant Creek High School, which has three quarters of its students in the bottom SES quartile will get an increase of just $1,300 per student over ten years.

That’s not funding true need.

Wanguri Primary School, with around one quarter Indigenous kids, gets an increase of just $565 per student, yet Geelong Grammar with 70 per cent of its kids in the upper quartile, gets an increase of $2,309 per student.

That’s not funding true need.

The two school systems that have the highest concentration of educational disadvantage, the Northern Territory Government sector and Tasmanian Government sector – will receive the lowest level of funding growth under the government’s plan.

That’s not funding true need.

Evidence provided by the Grattan Institute to the Senate Inquiry into the proposed Bill showed that by 2027, public schools in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory will all still be underfunded.

85 per cent of public schools will still be funded below the SRS in ten years’ time.

Whereas pretty much all private schools will be at or above their SRS.

The Government has abdicated responsibility for making sure all students get the SRS and instead, we’ll see a return to the blame game between the Commonwealth and the states. Meanwhile, students – particularly students in public schools – will miss out.

When Labor negotiated our schools funding package, we had to deal with 24 different school systems across Australia which all had different levels of educational achievement and disadvantage, different starting points, and different capacity to fund their schools.

We consulted and worked with stakeholders to build a needs-based, sector blind funding model that placed student need at its centre.

It was a hard-fought, hard-won consensus.

But this doesn’t detract from the fact that the highest priority, the fundamental principle of our model, was that every student, in every school, no matter which state or sector, should receive their fair level of SRS funding so they could have an education that opened up a life of opportunity.

Instead of fairness, the Government has chosen consistency. Consistently funding public schools at just a fifth of the level needed for a child to get a high quality education.

Not only does the Government’s package strip $22 billion from schools…

… it distributes that money in a way that entrenches inequality between the public and private systems.

Some claim the Government’s model is ‘sector blind’.

How is it sector blind when you fund the non-government sector to 80 per cent of the SRS and public schools to just 20 per cent?

How is it sector blind when your model means that after 10 years, 85 per cent of public schools will still be underfunded and virtually every non-government school will have reached the SRS or be over funded?

It is beyond me how anyone can think that this is a fair and good deal for public school students.

Some might be pleased on ideological grounds that 24 elite private schools will lose some funding. But under the Government’s model there are other elite private schools that get millions of dollars in extra funding.

And none of that changes the fact that public schools students will lose much, much more.

I know public school parents and students around the country care about that.

All Australian students have the right to a quality education. We must do everything we can to defend it.