The changes proposed in this Bill implement the recommendations of the independent National Schools Resourcing Board to move to a more accurate direct measure of income to calculate a school community's capacity to contribute to the funding of non-government schools.
Labor Senators note that the more direct and accurate new methodology should allow better needs-based targeting of Commonwealth funding for non-government schools.
Labor believes that government funding for schools should always be guided first and foremost by need. This Bill is another example of a missed opportunity for this Government to deliver fair, needs-based funding to public schools.
Labor highlights the AEU’s evidence that:
The Government’s 20% cap on Commonwealth funding of public schools will ensure that a tiny minority will reach 100% of the SRS by 2023, whereas…the Commonwealth Government’s promise to deliver 80% of SRS to private schools by 2023 will mean that the vast majority of private schools in Australia will exceed 100% of the SRS.
The Government’s funding arrangements also include loopholes that allow states to underfund public schools by a further 4% by artificially counting funding for items such as capital depreciation and school transport costs as part of recurrent expenditure.
The Government’s funding arrangements are not needs based. The Government has entrenched inequity between school systems, turning their backs on public school students and parents.
This Bill does nothing to address the under-funding of public schools; instead, it commits an additional $3.4 billion to deliver targeted funding to private schools.
Public schools educate 82 per cent of the poorest students in Australia. They teach 84 per cent of Indigenous students, and 74 per cent of students with disabilities. Instead of directing new funding to the schools and students with the greatest need, the Government is locking in disadvantage.
Transparency and scrutiny of proposed arrangements
Labor Senators note that the inclusion of amendments to provide authority to make GST-inclusive payments to non-government schools has prevented extensive scrutiny of this Bill. If changes aren’t passed promptly, thousands of schools stand to lose long-standing GST payments. Attaching this time-sensitive amendment to a Bill that proposes major changes to recurrent school funding has limited opportunities for detailed scrutiny of the proposed changes. This has compounded concerns expressed by a number of submitters that the Government’s development of the DMI methodology has been rushed and relied on limited consultation.
Scrutiny has also been undermined by the decision to remove substantial detail regarding the CTC methodology from the Act and place it in the Regulation. Labor does not consider justifications provided in the Department’s submission to be adequate and calls on the Government to release the proposed regulations and consult widely to improve transparency.
Labor Senators also note that various submitters raised concerns about lack of detail regarding the proposed appeals process and the related Choice and Affordability Fund guidelines. Further, the Government is yet to publicly release the proposed guidelines related to Ministerial determinations on ‘majority Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander schools’ or the refined area-based method for very small schools.
The Bill allows the Minister to depart from the methodology prescribed in the Regulation if satisfied that a determination in accordance with the Regulation would result in a CTC score that does not accurately reflect the capacity of persons responsible for children at the school to contribute financially to the operation of the school. Where there are genuine issues with a school’s CTC score matching the demographics of its community this is appropriate; however, ministerial discretion should not provide a “blank cheque” to top up the funding of any school that requests it.
Labor Senators recommend strengthening transparency around the appeals process and use of own-initiative Ministerial determinations on CTC scores. When Ministerial determinations are made, whether by own-initiative or on application, they should be published within 28 days on the Department of Education, Skills and Employment website. This would make clear all schools for which applications have been lodged or own-initiative determinations made; years for which determinations are made; reasons for determination; and any CTC score adjustment.
Labor Senators also note that a number of submissions suggest that a significant proportion of the related Choice and Affordability Fund will go towards assisting schools to transition as a result of the introduction of the DMI CTC methodology. Labor notes that transition funding should support schools to transition to their accurate funding level, not top up or sustain their existing funding in perpetuity. Labor Senators call on the Government to clarify whether funding under the Choice and Affordability Fund will be allocated across all five priorities identified in the relevant guidelines.
A number of submissions have suggested that further refinement of the DMI methodology is needed, particularly in relation to data matching and the appropriateness of proposed arrangements for regional and boarding schools. Labor supports the ABS undertaking further investigation of ways to improve the quality of data and appropriateness of the methodology in these cases.
Notwithstanding concerns regarding scrutiny and transparency in this Bill, Labor Senators accept that the proposed arrangements will deliver a more robust, direct and accurate measure of a school community’s capacity to contribute to the financial operation of the school. This will lead to the delivery of more targeted needs-based funding within the non-government school sectors. Labor will therefore support this Bill.
Labor Senators recommend that the Regulation enabled by this Bill specify that the outcomes of Ministerial determinations, whether by own-initiative or on application, are published within 28 days on the Department of Education, Skills and Employment website.
Senator Louise Pratt