Gonski funding – uncertainty may be greatest challenge

Weeks of abusive language and character denigration from all sides has landed us the new Gonski funding, a deal made in parliament house corridors, with opportune media interviews providing leverage.  Turnbull had to take into consideration the voices of the Australian people as presented to him by their representatives. It brought another $5billion to the table and a shorter implementation timetable.

Gonski funding – uncertainty may be greatest challenge 1

Gonski funding – Devil in the detail

The devil is in the detail for this funding and not just for the Catholics.

What the Gonski 2.0 will bring is entirely unclear as the government has been very short on the details. When will changes take effect, how quickly will the allocated funding be implemented, will funding for Catholic schools be rolled over for the coming year while discussions about how the SES will be calculated and applied are continuing? How will the funding formula be applied, how will the disability loading be applied?

There are so many details the government has been careful not to divulge. Does the government rely on proper policy development and does not proper policy development include consultation.

Catholic schools

Uncertainty about the future is one of the main issues that have become apparent over the duration of the budget discussions.

Catholic schools educate about 20 percent of Australian school students, that’s 1737 schools with 765 000 students. Over the period of this budget discussion, Catholic school principals were doing school open days and preparing to enrol students for next year. How do they answer questions about fees and what will parents do faced with this uncertainty? Considering uncertainty about jobs, especially in rural areas, the assumption on the part of principals would be that some parents will feel safer not sending their child to a school where they can have no assurance about the fees.

There is no way to know how many parents do not want to live with that uncertainty and instead enroll their child in a state school. This is, of course, fine, but a loss to the Catholic schools and several thousand dollars of added expenditure as every child in a state school gets more funding than any private school child.

SES – the Socio-Economic Standard

A main issue with the Gonski funding will be how the SES is calculated and applied. Being a very blunt tool based on postcodes, it will be useful to know how it will be applied to the many schools in poor areas that charge high and very high fees and have huge assets such as Geelong Grammar located in Corio, Victoria. Clearly, not all people in a poor postcode are poor. Likewise, not all families in rich postcodes are rich, this is why systemic schools move funds from poor area schools into rich area schools so that they can provide an education alternative also in those postcode areas.

Some schools are socio-economically selective by means of their fees. It leaves me wondering how a funding paradigm like Gonski, that seeks to address socio-economic disadvantage, is being used to hand money to some of the highest fee demanding schools in Australia. This is not to say that the schools should not get the funding per se, only that the funding mechanisms and the reasoning behind them should be more transparent and not clouded in rhetoric.

Gonski funding reform. Independent school in rural Australia
Independent school in rural Australia

Disability loading vs National Disability Insurance Scheme, the NDIS

Another main issue with the Gonski funding reform is how the disability loading will work. What will trigger the loading, what are the thresholds and how will it work together with the new national disability insurance scheme, the NDIS. Presumably, students will not be able to be subject to provisions under both schemes for in school assistance. That surely will be stopped lest they double dip, to use a charged term that has found its way into financial parlance.

Better schools

Considering how much discussion has happened on the national stage over a number of weeks, it is disappointing not to have seen much discussion about how any of this funding will be targeted to improve education outcomes. Where was the analysis of PISA and other international studies?

Surely, it will be pleasing to spend money on a child that does well in school and the money will be welcomed with open arms. It may be a better use of tax money to direct the funds to the child that is not doing well in core subject areas and then not randomly give that student the use of a new hall, better-maintained buildings, new art and craft teachers. How do you provide support in the area where a student needs support? Teachers all over Australia are ready to write that report. They already have that expertise and they already know what they need.

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Stanford professor Ray Chetty has a lot to say about education, socio-economic factors and life outcomes
Stanford professor Ray Chetty has a lot to say about education, socio-economic factors and life outcomes. Read Good teachers providing better futures

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