The federal government has gone into damage control over school funding reforms, promising extra cash and blaming the media for not understanding the issue, as the row over its backflip on education funds continues.
On Wednesday, Education Minister Christopher Pyne pledged an extra $ 230 million for states that did not sign up to the former Labor government’s so-called Gonski reforms. Out of the new funds, Western Australia will receive $ 31 million, the Northern Territory will get $ 67 million and Queensland will bag $ 131 million next year.
”That means every student in Australia is being treated fairly and equitably,” Mr Pyne said in Adelaide.
The Coalition argued Labor ”ripped” $ 1.2 billion out of schools funding before the election – putting money that had been set aside for states who had not yet signed up to the Gonski plan back into consolidated revenue.
In turn, Labor leader Bill Shorten has accused the government of behaving like ”B-team magicians”. ”This is just spin from the Coalition,” he said.
The Abbott government wants to use the schools funding model introduced by John Howard as a ”starting point” for a new system, despite the former Liberal government finding it was flawed.
As education minister under the Howard government, Julie Bishop commissioned the Department of Education to review the SES funding model.
The internal review found that while the SES model was ”fair and transparent”, it was not being applied fairly to all schools.
”The consistency and equity of the SES funding arrangements is undermined by the fact that almost half the non-government school sector is funded outside the ‘straight’ SES model,” the internal report said.
The Commonwealth model used census data to measure a school’s need, based on the socio-economic status of student families.
The confidential department review said the system had entrenched ”inequities”. It found no justification for the unfair distribution of funds within the non-government sector, other than ”purely historical” reasons. The Howard government had struck a ”no-losers” agreement with non-government schools ensuring none would lose money. Even if, over time, they qualified for less under the formula if student families became wealthier.
More than half of mainstream Catholic schools and a quarter of independent schools were found to be funded above their strict entitlement under the formula.
The president of the Australian Education Union, Angelo Gavrielatos, said it was ”extraordinary” the federal minister would support a funding system ”that has been shown to have failed our students since its introduction”.
”The Gonski review and significant pieces of research all demonstrate the SES is a broken system, corrupted system, irretrievably damaged, and damaging, and contributing to a widening of achievement gap for our children,” he said.
Mr Pyne said while the funding cupboard was ”essentially bare”, he had been able to find the $ 230 million through ”offsets” in his portfolio. He said he would come back with a new plan for schools funding early next year.
The extra funds come a day after Mr Pyne killed off the Gonski model for school funding, branding the system a ”shambles” and sparking fury from federal Labor and states, such as Victoria and NSW, who had signed on to the reforms before this year’s federal election.
Asked why he did not reveal the extra funding on Tuesday, Mr Pyne said: ”I’m just going through the normal processes of government.”