2015 is shaping up to be a critical year for school funding, even if Tony Abbott doesn’t believe it. Of the upcoming Budget he said, “people will find it pretty dull, pretty routine.” But for those of us fighting for the future of Labor’s Gonski school reforms, the wait for the 2015 Budget hasn't been dull at all.
The Government’s first Budget left the vital fifth and sixth years of the reforms unfunded. It also ripped $30 billion from classrooms over the next decade, putting in train a long-term spiral of decline and increasing inequality.
So it’s no surprise we are eagerly anticipating what the Government does in their second Budget. To say that it will be “dull” and “routine” shows the Liberal Government’s blatant disregard for the importance of the Gonski reforms.
The fact is, the Gonski reforms were the result of the biggest review of Australia’s school funding system in 40 years. Labor’s vision was driven with the support and hard work of the entire sector. Students, teachers, parents, academics and principals were integral in the process of recognising the challenges facing Australia's schools, and the need to address both inequality and declining student results.
The gap between well-off and disadvantaged students is wider than the OECD average, and it is growing. Regional students lag behind their city peers by almost a year and remote students are almost two years behind. This means that the consequences of not completing the full six year reform process will be huge. For example, government schools in Victoria will reach just 82 per cent of the national student resource standard by the end of 2017, while those in Tasmania will achieve 94 per cent. With OECD analysis showing up to 2.5 years difference in achievement between states and territories, the need for consistent national standards could not be more urgent. But without funding for the full six years of the Gonski reforms, these inequalities will be locked in.
Instead of addressing this, Christopher Pyne continues to pursue an agenda of diverting attention from the fact that his Government is hurting the future of our school education system. He labels himself a “fixer”, yet he continues to take a sledgehammer to Labor’s goal that every student in every school would have the support they need to achieve their best.
If you listen to Christopher Pyne’s charade, you will hear a man in complete denial about the impact of the Government’s decision to link school funding to the Consumer Price Index. This equates to a $30 billion cut, and it is completely unsustainable. With the cost of running schools growing by more than five per cent a year, and CPI projected to be around 2.5 per cent, the Government’s policy will see schools face long-term decline. But Christopher Pyne won’t acknowledge this.
One of the most important, rewarding and smartest investments that a government can make is in our education sector: making sure that our school system equips our students with the skills they need to shape and guide Australia’s future. When I think about the immense work and effort across the school sector which delivered Australia the solutions to fix the inequality in our school system I am incredibly proud. But when I think about the Government’s disregard for this work, I am both saddened and angry.
Families, educators and the community know the potential of the Gonski reforms to change our education system, empower our schools and put our children on a path of success. That’s why this Budget is so important. That’s why it shouldn’t be dull. It’s incredibly important that the Government commits to Gonski, reverses their damaging cuts and gives our students the chance to succeed.
This opinion piece was first published in the May edition of the Australian Teacher Magazine.
5 May 2015