School education

Budget Review 2015–16 Index

Marilyn Harrington

There are only three school education budget measures in the Education Portfolio and expenditure continues on the trajectory established by the Coalition’s first budget. Although school education is not a major feature of this year’s Budget, there is likely to be ongoing speculation about the future of Australian Government funding for school education beyond 2017.

Budget measures

There are three school education measures in the Budget. These are:

  • $16.9 million over four years for Improving the Quality of Teachers and Teacher Education Courses, which will implement the Government’s response to the report of the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group[1]
  • $5.4 million over two years to extend the Remote Indigenous Students Attending Non-Government Boarding Schools initiative, which assists schools with the additional costs of boarding Indigenous students from remote areas, and which was first funded in the 2014–15 Budget[2] and
  • $5.0 million over two years for an awareness campaign about the benefits of parents’ engagement in their children’s education (however, the budget papers show only $3.7 million), funded by the redirection of funds from the Government’s information campaign for its higher education reforms.[3]

Expenditure on school education

Total expenditure on schools is expected to increase by 10.8% in real terms from 2015–16 to 2018–19. However, the rate of this increase will decline in the out-years as the Government’s 2014–15 Budget decision to index school funding by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) (with an allowance for enrolment growth) from 2018 takes effect.[4] CPI is currently projected at 2.5% in the out-years, compared to the current indexation rates of 3.0%, 3.6 % or 4.7%. These current rates vary according to the level of a school’s funding compared to the Schooling Resource Standard.[5]

The table below shows a noticeable decline in the estimated rate of annual increase in real terms after 2016–17. In 2018–19, the first full financial year in which CPI indexation will apply, the real growth rate in school education expenses will be about a third of the growth rate estimated for 2015–16. The 2014–15 Budget estimated that the changed indexation arrangements will account for just under $30.0 billion in school expenditure savings by 2024‑25.[6]

Real growth in school education sub-function, % change(a)

All schools
Government schools
Non-government schools

(a)     Parliamentary Library estimate based on Schools line item of Table 7, Statement 5, Budget Paper No. 1, p. 5-21 adjusted for CPI using forecasts and projections included in Table 2, Statement 1, Budget Paper No. 1, p. 1-7.

The Independent Schools Council of Australia and the National Catholic Education Commission are concerned about the use of the CPI for the indexation of school expenses. They consider the CPI does not reflect the ‘real’ cost of education.[7]

The Australian Education Union estimates that the non-funding of the last two years of Labor’s Better Schools Plan (commonly referred to as ‘Gonski funding’) combined with the effect of the changed indexation arrangements will result in $3.8 billion less funding for schools in 2019 and 2020.[8]

Funding for students with disability

The Budget’s omission of additional provision for students with disability (SWD) has been criticised by some in the education sector.[9]

The pre-budget advocacy for more funding for SWD was driven by the cessation of the More Funding for Students with Disability initiative and the delay in the finalisation of the SWD loading provided under the Australian Education Act 2013 (the Act). It was also underscored by evidence of the increasing numbers of SWD, particularly students with autism spectrum disorders, and the inability of schools to cope with the needs of these students because of the lack of resources.[10]

Funding for the More Funding for Students with Disability initiative (which began in 2012) ceased at the end of 2014. The intention was that this funding would be replaced by the SWD loading.[11] The SWD loading, budgeted at an estimated $4.8 billion from 2014–15 to 2017–18, is being implemented.[12] However, the loading will be refined once the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability (NCCD) is finalised.[13] Originally scheduled for implementation from 2015, the intention is now to implement the revised SWD loading from 2016 as a result of technical delays with the NCCD.[14]

Regardless of the outcome for the SWD loading, it would appear that it will not be fully implemented because the Coalition Government has not committed to the last two years of the Act’s funding model, the additional funding for which was to be phased in over six years, and because of the changed indexation arrangements.

The future of Australian Government funding for schools

The future of Australian Government funding for schools beyond 2017 is uncertain; the distribution methodology for both government and non-government schools is yet to be negotiated.[15] School funding arrangements may also change when they are considered as part of the White Paper on the Reform of Federation.[16] It also appears that education payments to the states, including the 2014–15 Budget’s proposed $30 billion in savings over ten years, will be discussed at the Council of Australian Governments’ leaders’ retreat to be held in July.[17]

Note: the extension of funding for universal access to early childhood education is discussed in the Budget Review article, ‘Early childhood education and child care’.


[1].          Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2015–16, p. 77; Department of Education and Training (DET), Action now: classroom ready teachers: Australian Government response, DET, Canberra, February 2015.

[2].          Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2015–16, op. cit., p. 78. For information about the 2014–15 budget measure, see: M Harrington, Australian Education Amendment Bill 2014, Bills digest, 37, 2014–15, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2014, p. 3.

[3].          Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2015–16, op. cit., p. 78.

[4].          The budget figures in this article have been taken from the following document unless otherwise sourced: Australian Government, Budget strategy and outlook: budget paper no. 1: 2015–16. For information about the 2014–15 indexation budget measure, see: M Harrington, ‘School education’, Budget review 2014–15, Research paper series, 2013–14, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2014.

[5].          For further explanation of the indexation rates, see: Australian Government, ‘Transitional recurrent funding for participating schools’, Guide to the Australian Education Act 2013.

[6].          Australian Government, Budget 2014–15: overview, p. 7; Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment, Answers to Questions on Notice, Education Portfolio, Budget Estimates 2014–15, 4–5 June 2014, Question ED0223_15.

[7].          National Catholic Education Commission, Budget delivers short-term gains, long-term questions remain, media release, 12 May 2015; Independent Schools Council of Australia, School spending is an investment in future prosperity, media release, 11 May 2015.

[8].          Australian Education Union (AEU), Budget abandons promise to students with disability, confirms real cuts to schools by ending Gonski funding, media release, 12 May 2015.

[9].          For example: Ibid.; M Paine, ‘Budget blow for disabled children’, Hobart Mercury, 14 May 2015, p. 2.

[10].       G Rushton, ‘Disabled students suffer as funds dry up’, The Australian, 24 March 2015, p. 5; N Bita, ‘Funds call as autism students triple’, The Australian, 27 April 2015, p. 3.

[11].       Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2013–14, p. 117. See also: J Collins (Parliamentary Secretary for School Education and Workplace Relations), Extra $114 million for students with disability, media release, 14 May 2013.

[12].       Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment, Answers to Questions on Notice, Education Portfolio, Budget Estimates 2014–15, 4–5 June 2014, Question ED0212_15.

[13].       For further information, see: DET, ‘What is the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability?’, DET website.

[14].       Education Council, Communique, Education Council Meeting, 31 October 2014.

[15].       Senate School Funding Select Committee, Proof committee Hansard, 16 May 2014, p. 38.

[16].       J Hockey (Treasurer) and M Cormann (Minister for Finance), Our response to the National Commission of Audit report, media release, 13 May 2014.

[17].       S Smail, ‘COAG: state and territory leaders welcome Tony Abbott’s move to resolve funding stand-off’, ABC News, 18 April 2015.


All online articles accessed May 2015. 

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