Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a $4.5 billion grant for the Catholic and Independent school sectors on Thursday, a major change in the way non-government schools have previously received funding.
In addition to the handout, which will be in effect by 2020, a $1.2 billion ‘choice and availability fund’ will be released, in order to ‘prop up’ the Catholic and low-fee independent schools who would have otherwise have had to raise their fees to stay viable under the new funding system. These handouts stretch out further than the capital cities, injecting funds into rural and remote locations across Australia.
But not everyone is pleased with Morrison’s new announcement…
The new Gonski funding model
The package was created in an attempt to improve the existing Gonski funding model, based on census data, which has been inundated with criticism in the past. Instead, this new model uses parental tax data to calculate a school’s wealth.
This is now the third change to the Gonski 2.0 school funding package.
The Gonski principle, if you are unfamiliar, is a way of calculating how much money all schools need to educate their students. The scheme was amended from its original inclusions in March last year, for Canberra to pay a share of this required amount (otherwise known as the schooling resource standard) to these schools by 2027. Each situation was unique, as each school was evaluated based on their individual characteristics and issues.
Whilst the announcement comes as a major win for the Catholic sector, who had constantly revolted over funding changes announced in the Gonski legislation, the New South Wales government announced on Friday that it will not agree to such an ‘unfair’ choice of funding.
NSW’s Education Minister, Rob Stokes said, while additional funding was always welcome to the education sector, he would only accept on the condition that it was distributed fairly.
Interestingly, the handout announcement came with no advance warning from the federal government. Especially as Mr Stokes was close to an agreement that there would be no ‘special deals’ to specific parties, and that any given funding would be divided according to the existing Gonski principles.
Understandably, such changes have come as a surprise to those expecting fair funding across the board.
How are people responding?
But Scott Morrison strongly justifies the decision as a solution to keep things running smoothly in religious education.
‘For students, this will mean to opportunity to get the best results from school. For parents, it will mean that choice remains affordable…For teachers, it will mean certainty of funding so they can get on with the job.’
Similarly, Catholic Schools NSW (CSNSW) said the grant would be spectacularly helpful — allowing parents to have the choice of an affordable non-government school to send their children to.
CSNSW CEO Dallas McInerney told ABC News:
‘Faced with such a massive fee hike from kindergarten to Year 6, most parents would have withdrawn their children and enrolled them in the free government school nearby. This has now been averted.’
It’s a fair argument when you take into account the effect a changed environment may have on a young child — being divided away from friends, a good school system and teachers they have bonded with since starting at five years old.
And now, in true playground fashion, Federal Labor has quickly replied with a clapback.
Labor’s education spokesperson, Tanya Plibersek has questioned the Prime Minister’s decision:
‘The Prime Minister has turned his back on the 2.5 million children that go to public schools around Australia. He has said to the 5 million parents of those children, we don’t care about your kid…It looks very much [like] the Liberals have done a special deal to set up a $1.2 billion slush fund for private schools.
‘They need to explain why they’ve done that.’
However, Scott Morrison’s announcement comes after the National School Resourcing Board, an independent review board within the Department of Education, recommended parental means-based testing for school funding, after a review into our outdated current system earlier this year.
As well as increasing funding for many Catholic schools, which often argue that their students tend to come from families of lesser means even in wealthy suburbs, the new system will reduce funding for overfunded private schools of many types, including Australia’s wealthiest boarding schools.
By Alice de Bruin
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