School education and early learning

Budget Review 2018–19 Index

Marilyn Harrington

The 2018–19 Budget embeds the new school funding arrangements that were put in place by the 2017–18 Budget and later modified through the passage of the Australian Education Amendment Act 2017.[1] The increased funding for these later changes for the years 2017–18 to 2020–21 was provided in the Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2017–18.[2]

Using its Consumer Price Index (CPI) forecasts and projections, the Budget shows that total school funding will increase by an estimated 4.0 per cent in real terms from 2017–18 to 2018–19 and by an estimated 12.4 per cent in real terms from 2018–19 to 2021–22.[3]

Expenses in the government school sub-function are expected to increase in real terms by almost double that for the non-government schools sub-function from 2018–19 to 2021–22 (17.8 per cent compared to 8.8 per cent). However, the historic pattern of Australian Government funding for schools remains; that is, the majority of Australian Government funding is provided to non-government schools and state and territory governments provide most of their funding to government schools. Thus, in 2021–22, government schools will receive an estimated 41.4 per cent of total school funding. However, since the school funding arrangements legislated by the Australian Education Act 2013 were implemented in 2014, the proportion of funding to government schools has increased. In 2012–13, government schools received 34.8 per cent of Australian Government funding.[4]

Indexation of base per student funding

Under the Australian Government’s school funding arrangements, schools are funded according to a Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) which comprises a base per student amount (with different amounts for primary and secondary school students) and various disadvantage loadings.

From 2018 to 2020 the base per student amounts are to be indexed by 3.56 per cent (slightly less than the previous indexation factor of 3.6 per cent).[5] From 2021, this indexation factor will change. It will be made up of 75.0 per cent of the Wage Price Index (WPI) and 25.0 per cent of the CPI, or it will be a set minimum threshold of 3.0 per cent, whichever is higher. Based on the Budget’s forecasts for the WPI and CPI, the indexation factor for the base per student amount from 2021 to 2022 will amount to an estimated 3.25 per cent, which is less than the current indexation factor of 3.56 per cent, but more than the set minimum of 3.0 per cent.

The National School Chaplaincy Programme

There are few new school education budget measures. Of these, the National School Chaplaincy Programme (NSCP) is the most significant. With funding of $247.0 million over four years from 2018–19 (which will fund about 3,000 schools to employ a school chaplain), the NSCP has been identified in the budget papers as one of the top ten expense initiatives in the entire budget.[6] Moreover, the Treasurer in his budget speech announced that it would be funded on a ‘permanent basis’.[7]

The Government has also announced that the program will have a new focus—school chaplains will be required to upgrade their skills by undertaking cyber-bullying training provided by the eSafety Commissioner.[8]

Budget reaction

The Labor Party and other critics of the Government’s school funding arrangements maintain that the Government is providing $17.0 billion less over ten years and $2.19 billion less from 2018 to 2019 than would have been provided under the previous Labor Government’s original plan for school funding.[9] The National Catholic Education Commission (NCEC) is also disappointed that the Budget has not addressed its concerns, particularly in relation to the various reviews that have been undertaken (see below).[10]

The NSCP’s renewal has been welcomed by the non-government schools sector, but criticised by various secular groups.[11] The Australian Education Union argues that the funds should have been used instead for ‘professional school counselling services, ongoing professional development for principals and teachers and student well being programs’.[12]

The future of school funding

The Budget does not contain any school education measures as a result of the recent Gonski review which examined school reform or the Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education.[13] The reports of these reviews will be considered further by the Council of Australian Governments’ Education Council and both will have implications for school education.

Another review, yet to be completed, that will also have an impact on school funding arrangements, is the National School Resourcing Board’s Review of the Socio-economic Status (SES) Score Methodology.[14] Commonwealth funding to non-government schools is adjusted by a school’s ‘capacity to contribute’ which is based on its SES score, which, in turn, provides a relative ranking of all non-government schools based on the income, education and occupation characteristics of the areas in which their students reside.

Early learning

The extension of the National Partnership Agreement Universal Access to Early Childhood Education (the NP), that was first announced in February this year, is the most significant of the early learning budget measures.[15] The NP, which provides funding for preschool programs for children in the year before full-time school, has once again been extended by one year only. The Government is providing $441.6 million over two years from 2018–19 to extend the NP for the 2019 calendar year and to undertake the National Early Childhood and Care Collection in early 2020.[16]

This yearly extension of the NP has been the practice since 2015 in spite of continuing concerns by the early childhood education sector about the uncertainty that this creates—there are also calls for the NP to be extended to three-year-olds.[17] The Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education and Development, Amanda Rishworth, has warned that funding uncertainty may mean ‘fees will have to rise or services will have to close’.[18]

The Government has not provided an explanation for the continuing annual renewal of the NP. And it seemingly runs counter to the consensus about the importance of early childhood education to children’s learning outcomes, which has been most recently canvassed by the Gonski review and the Review to Achieve Education Excellence in Australian Schools through Early Childhood Interventions, which was commissioned by the Education Council.[19]

None of the budget measures discussed in this article require separate legislation.

[1].          For further information, see: M Harrington, ‘Schools funding legislation passed by Parliament—an update on the amendments’, FlagPost, Parliamentary Library blog, 26 June 2017; and M Harrington, Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017, Bills digest, 116, 2016–17, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2017.

[2].          S Morrison (Treasurer) and M Cormann (Minister for Finance), Mid-year economic and fiscal outlook 2017–18, p. 146.

[3].          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: 2018–19.

[4].          Australian Government, Final budget outcome 2012–13, p. 95.

[5].          Information about indexation arrangements is from M Harrington, Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017, op. cit., p. 10.

[6].          Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2018–19, p. 92; S Birmingham (Minister for Education and Training) and K Andrews (Minister for Vocational Education and Skills), Guaranteeing essential services—reform and investment for better education opportunities, media release, 8 May 2018; Australian Government, Budget 2018–19: budget overview, p. 34.

[7].          S Morrison (Treasurer), Budget speech 2018–19, p. 11.

[8].          Birmingham and Andrews, op. cit.

[9].          T Plibersek (Shadow Minister for Education and Training), Biggest threat to public schools: Liberals’ massive cuts, media release, 20 March 2018.

[10].       National Catholic Education Commission (NCEC), Budget doesn’t address Catholic schools’ concerns, media release, 9 May 2018; R Urban and R Deutrom, ‘Catholic backlash builds as funding concerns sidestepped’, The Australian, 10 May 2018.

[11].       Independent Schools Council of Australia, Chaplaincy program extension welcomed, media release, 9 May 2019; NCEC, op. cit.; P Karp, ‘School chaplain program’s $247m budget extension rejected by teachers’ union’, The Guardian, 9 May 2018.

[12].       Australian Education Union, Turnbull’s Budget fails our children, media release, 8 May 2018.

[13].       Department of Education and Training (DET), ‘Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools’ and ‘Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education’, DET websites.

[14].       DET, ‘Review of the socio-economic status (SES) score methodology’, DET website.

[15].       S Birmingham (Minister for Education and Training), Preschool funding boost, media release, 3 February 2018.

[16].       Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2018–19, p. 91.

[17].       For example: Early Childhood Australia, Missed opportunity on quality early learning, media release, 8 May 2018; Mitchell Institute, Funding announcement hurts preschools, media release, 5 February 2018.

[18].       A Rishworth (Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education and Development), Budget leaves families in limbo without funding certainty, media release, 9 May 2018.

[19].       S Pascoe and D Brennan, Lifting our game: report of the Review to Achieve Education Excellence in Australian Schools through Early Childhood Interventions, 2017; J Mikakos (Victorian Minister for Early Childhood Education), Time for Turnbull to pull his weight on early childhood, media release, 1 February 2018.


All online articles accessed May 2018.

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