More funding for all schools—an update on Gonski

The Government’s previous commitment that no school would lose a dollar in funding per student has been extended. The Prime Minister and the Minister for School Education, Peter Garrett, have announced that all schools will receive increased funding under the Government’s new plans for school funding. Peter Garrett has also confirmed that funding will be increased in real terms.
This newly announced commitment follows the release on the News Limited website of a list of 3254 schools (about one-third of all schools) that would lose funding. State governments and non-government education authorities used data provided by the Australian Government for their modelling to calculate funding for individual schools under the Gonski proposals. According to the list, the significant majority of schools (72 per cent) that would lose funding are government schools, and the list includes schools in rural areas and special schools. The 2010 funding data referred to in the list is total government recurrent funding (federal and state and territory) as published on the My School website.
If this list of schools is correct, it appears that there may be some serious deficits in the assumptions upon which the Gonski recommendations were based. As reported by Samantha Maiden in the Sunday Herald Sun, the Prime Minister, too, has admitted that the original modelling had ‘some schools missing out’. Moreover, as reported in the same newspaper article, there is a belief that the Gonski Panel were never provided with detailed modelling on the impact of its own recommendations and that some panel members have ‘expressed frustration they were left in the dark’.
The Government’s announcement that all schools will receive ‘increased funding’ does not include any information about the scope of the increases. Under the Australian Government’s existing system of school funding, schools receive annual indexed increases in their base per student funding mostly in response to increases in Average Government School Recurrent Costs (AGSRC). Per student recurrent grants are based on a percentage of AGSRC with different amounts for primary and secondary school students. Government school students are funded at 10 per cent of AGSRC and non-government school students, under the Socioeconomic Status (SES) system, are funded along a continuum from 13.7 per cent to 70.0 per cent of AGSRC. In 2011, the primary AGSRC amount increased by 6.9 per cent to $9697 and the secondary AGSRC by 4.8 per cent to $11 945.
In addition to the per student funding provided under the National Schools Specific Purpose Payment, the Australian Government provides funding for both government and non-government schools through other programs such as its national partnerships, and also, for non-government schools, through targeted and capital programs. (See the Parliamentary Library publication, Australian Government Funding for Schools Explained, for further information.)
The report of the Review of Funding for Schooling (the Gonski Report) recommended a funding increase of $5 billion (in 2009 dollars). Using the average annual increase in AGSRC of 5.9 per cent from 1999 to 2011 (and as calculated by the Statistics and Mapping Section, Parliamentary Library), this amount will equate to an estimated $5.94 billion in 2013–14 when a new funding system is due to be implemented. Of this new funding, the Gonski Report recommended that 75 per cent be provided to government schools on the basis that they educate the most disadvantaged students.
The Gonski Report also provided estimates of the proposed per student Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) amounts—$8000 per primary school student and $10 500 per secondary school student (in 2009 dollars). Using the same methodology as above, these amounts will equate to an estimated $10 355 and $13 591 in 2013–14.
On top of this funding, the Gonski Report proposed weightings for various indicators of disadvantage, which were not determined at the time of the Report’s release. The new funding was to include Australian and state and territory government money, of which the Gonski Report concluded state and territory governments should provide 70 per cent on the basis of their current share of total government funding. (For a summary of the Gonski proposals, see the Parliamentary Library’s FlagPost, 'Brave new world'? The Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling).
It is difficult to navigate through all the claims and counter-claims now being made about the future of school funding. So what is known for certain?
  • In an interview on Sky News, the Prime Minister said that the Government’s response to the Gonski report ‘… won’t be too far away from here. It’ll be in a number of weeks’ time’. The Government has also committed to introducing legislation for the new funding system this year. Given that schools are funded only to the end of 2013, legislation will need to be introduced soon to provide funding certainty.
  • As mentioned above, the Government has promised that all schools will receive increased funding in real terms. However, there is no news yet about the indexation formula to be used. Indexation mechanisms vary considerably. From 1999 to 2011, the average annual rate of increase in the AGSRC, which currently is the basis of most of the indexation mechanism for school funding, was 5.9 per cent, almost double that of the Consumer Price Index which increased at an average annual rate of 3.2 per cent.
  • There have always been educational and financial accountability conditions placed on Australian Government funding for schools. School improvement plans will be a new condition. What they will mean in practice for schools is not yet known.
  • The Government has distanced itself from the Gonski modelling upon which the list of schools to lose funding was based. In a Lateline interview, Peter Garrett said that ‘[it] is not the Government's modelling and the figures are not correct at all. No school will lose a single dollar and that commitment is absolute. What people saw out of those figures was modelling from the Gonski panel. It's not the Government's figures’. The modelling has not been released.
  • From comments Peter Garrett made in an interview on Sky News’s Sunday Agenda program, and as reported in The Australian by Justine Ferrari, it seems likely that the implementation of the Government’s new funding system will be phased in over time. On the same program, he also declined to commit to the quantum of new money recommended in the Gonski Report.
  • Elements of the existing funding system will continue. Peter Garrett wrote in the Daily Telegraph that non-government schools will continue to be funded according to ‘the ability of parents … to contribute to the cost of their child’s education’ and government school students will ‘continue [to] be fully publicly funded.’
  • The Opposition’s policy, as stated by Christopher Pyne, the Shadow Minister for Education, is to ‘maintain the current funding plus yearly six per cent indexation, meaning over four years both government and non-government schools would receive recurrent funding increases from a Coalition Government’. The Shadow Minister has also urged the Government to ‘extend the current funding model to give schools and parents the certainty they need to plan for the future’.
  • State and territory government support is uncertain. State governments, such as the Queensland Government, argue that they are not in a position to fund the Gonski reform agenda. It seems likely, however, as reported in the Sunday Herald Sun by Samantha Maiden, the Australian Government will contribute a greater share of the funding than proposed in the Gonski Report.
  • The Greens and the Australian Education Union and other public education advocates, are calling for an additional government investment of the scale recommended in the Gonski report.
School funding increases every year as a result of indexation. The questions remain as to how much new money over and above the current indexation arrangements will be provided, how and when this money will be apportioned, what funding role the states and territories will have and whether the different approaches to school funding will be resolved.


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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