Early childhood and school education

Budget Resources

Shannon Clark and Marilyn Harrington

As there are reviews underway (detailed below) into early childhood education and care (ECEC) and school education, the 2023–24 Budget represents somewhat of a ‘holding pattern’ pending their outcomes.

Unless otherwise indicated, all page numbers refer to Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2023–24.

Early childhood education

The 2023–24 Budget provides $72.4 million over 5 years from 2022–23 for professional learning for the ECEC workforce, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educators and those in regional and remote locations (p. 99). This funding will:

  • subsidise training for ECEC services and their staff
  • provide financial assistance for paid practicums in initial teacher education courses for ECEC educators
  • support practicum exchanges at a different service with a living allowance for student practicums in rural and remote locations.

The ECEC sector has welcomed the funding but is disappointed that the Budget is ‘silent’ about educator wages and expanding universal access to preschool education for 3-year-olds. The findings of the Productivity Commission’s ECEC inquiry (due to report in June 2023) and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission inquiry into ECEC pricing (due to report in December 2023) may have implications for these issues.

Current advocacy to expand universal access for 3-year-olds will likely be enhanced by the South Australian Royal Commission into Early Childhood Education & Care. The commission’s interim report recommended 15 hours a week of preschool for all South Australian children from the age of 3 from 2026. This coincides with the next scheduled Preschool Reform Agreement, as the current agreement expires at the end of 2025. There may also be implications arising from the Preschool Outcomes Measure Expert Advisory Group, which was established to advise the Australian Government on how to measure the benefits of preschool.

School education

The 2023–24 Budget has limited new measures relating to school education. Funding is allocated to lift educational outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, improve program administration and departmental information and communications technology (ICT), and support the National Teacher Workforce Action Plan. Some measures are partially or fully offset by savings across the Education portfolio.

Savings measures

The budget measure ‘Education – reprioritisation’ identifies savings of $13.2 million over 4 years from 2022–23 (and $1.1 million ongoing) for school-related measures (p. 100). Much of this is from unspecified uncommitted funding in the National School Reform Fund and Quality Outcomes Program:

  • The National School Reform Fund was part of the Turnbull Government’s Quality Schools reforms announced in the 2017–18 Budget. The March 2022–23 Budget provided an additional $62.4 million over 2 years from 2022–23 to extend the National School Reform Fund and Non-Government Support Reform Fund (Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: March 2022–23, pp. 77–8). As outlined in Senate Estimates in April 2022, the National School Reform Fund supported national reform projects between the Australian Government and the states and territories (p. 82).
  • The Quality Outcomes Program includes numerous smaller programs including the Parliament and Civics Education Rebate (PACER), Civics and Citizenship, Arts Education, as well as funding for the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) and the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) (see the Department of Education’s Senate Estimates briefs, November 2022, p. 430).

Recovering overpayments and improving funding integrity in non-government schools will save $1.9 million over 4 years from 2023–24 and $1.1 million per year ongoing (p. 100). The Government will strengthen safeguards to ensure funding for non-government schools is used appropriately. The Independent Schools Association, while welcoming funding continuity in the 2023–24 Budget, has noted the lack of detail regarding funding integrity improvement and argued that ‘Independent schools are already highly accountable to multiple regulatory bodies’.

The Department of Education has been improving processes relating to school funding assurance following the Australian National Audit Office’s report Monitoring the impact of Australian Government school funding (2017) and follow up (2021). The department summarised improvements and key assurance and compliance activities undertaken for non-government schools in response to a Senate Estimates question on notice in November 2022 (SQ22-000214).

The Budget also identifies $4.2 million in savings over 4 years from 2022–23 from the Building Boarding Schools on Country Program (pp. 100–1). As a Department of Education fact sheet states, these savings derive from reducing the program’s scope due to increased construction costs.

Expense measures

The 2023–24 Budget provides funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students’ education initiatives, including $32.8 million over 2 years from 2023–24 for the Clontarf Foundation (pp. 100–1). Under the cross-portfolio measure Better, Safer Future for Central Australia Plan (pp. 83–4), schools in central Australia will receive $40.4 million over 2 years from 2022–23 for school attendance and education outcomes. Additionally, $21.6 million is allocated to extend Indigenous Boarding Providers grants for another year (p. 191). (See also Budget review 2023–24 article, ‘Indigenous Affairs' ).

The Budget also provides $105.9 million over 4 years from 2023–24 to ‘strengthen the Education portfolio’s capability to deliver critical functions’ (p. 102). Most of this ($91.7 million) is for ICT development to improve schools’ and higher education providers’ program administration.

Additional funding of $9.3 million over 4 years is provided to support the National Teacher Workforce Action Plan (pp. 102–3). This includes:

The measure description also outlines $25.0 million over 4 years to establish a Teacher Workload Reduction Fund and $10.0 million over 2 years for a national campaign to raise the status of teachers. However, these measures were part of $328 million announced in November 2022, alongside the draft National Teacher Workforce Action Plan. The October 2022–23 Budget allocated $310.4 million over 9 years from 2022–23 (and $7.9 million per year ongoing) to address teacher shortages (Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: October 2022–23, pp. 96–7).

Where to next for school reform?

The 2023–24 Budget represents a continuation of current school funding arrangements under Quality Schools funding. In 2023–24, the Australian Government will provide $28.3 billion to the states and territories for school education under Quality Schools (Federal financial relations: budget paper no. 3: 2023–24, p. 40). Of this, $10.8 billion is for government schools and $17.4 billion is for non-government schools.

Budget strategy and outlook: budget paper no. 1: 2023–24 notes a decrease in payments for government schools due to parameter variations since the October 2022–23 Budget. In comparison to previous estimates, payments for government schools are estimated to decrease by $181 million in 2023–24 and $1.2 billion over 4 years from 2023–24 to 2026–27, ‘primarily due to a decrease in student enrolments in Government Schools’ (p. 106).

Over recent years, government school enrolments have decreased, while those at non-government schools have increased. Between 2021 and 2022, the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) students at government schools decreased by 0.7% (17,046 FTE students), while the number of FTE students increased by 1.0% (8,208 FTE students) at Catholic schools and 3.3% (20,521 FTE students) at independent schools.

National School Reform Agreement

The next iteration of the National School Reform Agreement (NSRA) will likely change current school funding arrangements and priorities. The NSRA sets out national school education policy and reform initiatives, as agreed by Commonwealth, state and territory education ministers. The NSRA began in 2019 and was due to expire in December 2023; however, in December 2022 education ministers agreed on a 12-month extension to allow for a review.

The review’s expert panel is due to report by 31 October 2023, after which the Australian and state and territory governments will negotiate the next NSRA. The expert panel’s work will build on the Productivity Commission’s December 2022 report into the NSRA.

The 2023 NSRA review’s Terms of Reference state:

The Australian Government is committed to working with State and Territory Governments to get every school to 100 per cent of its fair funding level.

This refers to the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS). The SRS is an estimate of schools’ funding requirements to meet their students’ educational needs and is the basis of recurrent funding arrangements under the Australian Education Act 2013.

In 2023, the Australian Government provides at least 20% of the SRS for government schools and 80% of the SRS for non-government schools. This reflects the Australian Government’s role as the minority public funder for government schools and the majority public funder for non-government schools.

To receive Australian Government funding, state and territory governments must contribute their agreed minimum share of funding for school education as a proportion of the SRS, established in bilateral agreements under the NSRA.

Combining figures from bilateral agreements with the Commonwealth share, only the ACT will reach combined minimum funding contributions of 100% of the SRS for both government and non-government schools in 2023. The Northern Territory has the lowest combined proportion, reaching 79.0% for government schools and 95.1% for non-government schools by 2023 (the Commonwealth provides an additional $78.5 million in transition support from 2018 to 2027 for government schools in the NT under the bilateral agreement). Across other states, non-government schools reach around 100% of the SRS by 2023 in combined Commonwealth-state contributions, but government schools do not.

The ALP, Greens and Australian Education Union have frequently criticised funding arrangements by which government schools are funded below 100% of the SRS under the NSRA. During the 2022 election, the ALP committed to ‘put every school on a path to its full and fair funding’, while the Greens campaigned for a 25% Australian Government contribution to ensure government schools reach 100% of the SRS by 2023. In February 2023, the Greens announced they would introduce a Bill to amend the Australian Education Act 2013 ‘to remove the arbitrary 20% cap on Commonwealth funding for public schools’ Schooling Resource Standard’.

The NSRA review will advise education ministers on the targets and reforms that should be included in the next agreement and how specific reforms should be tied to funding. The expert panel will also consider transparency and accountability in relation to how public funding is invested and the impacts of public funding.

Alongside funding implications, lifting student outcomes (particularly from priority cohorts) and student wellbeing will also likely be central to the new agreement.


All online articles accessed May 2023

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