Teachers and principals are calling for funding to continue for highly successful literacy and numeracy programs in public schools.
In its pre-budget submission, the Australian Education Union urged the Federal Government to reconsider plans to end funding for the Literacy and Numeracy National Partnership which is benefiting more than 10 per cent of schools across the country.
AEU Federal President Angelo Gavrielatos said the National Partnership funding was making a real difference for students, particularly those at risk in disadvantaged communities.
"The programs that schools have been able to put in place have been highly successful in improving the literacy and numeracy of students across the country as the Gonski Review acknowledged.
"Whether it is intensive one on one support for students, early intervention programs, smaller class sizes or employing specialist literacy and numeracy teachers the strategies adopted have made a real difference.
"We are urging the Federal Government to continue at least the current level of funding which is $175 million a year so the gains made so far are not lost."
The AEU believes the continuation of the National Partnership funding is an important interim step while the Federal Government considers the recommendations of the Gonski Review for a complete overhaul of schools funding and an urgent injection of an additional $5 billion into schools ($3.8 billion for public schools) from the start of 2014.
"We want to see long term reform in the way public schools are funded so they do not have to rely on add-on funding such as the National Partnerships. But while final decisions are being made on the Gonski Review recommendations the resources that public schools have
must not be cut," Mr Gavrielatos said.
“In analysing last year’s budget, funding expert Dr Jim McMorrow found that unless there is additional spending, public school funding will be cut in real terms between 2011-12 and 2014-15 by around $330 million or six per cent. At the same time private school funding will increase by almost $940 million or 11 per cent.”
The AEU welcomes the Treasurer’s invitation to make a Pre-Budget submission concerning our priorities in the 2012-13 Budget.
Our submission relates specifically to schools funding in the context of the Gonski Review of
Funding for Schooling. The AEU has made a number of public submissions and presentations to the Gonski Review, but we wish to briefly draw attention to some key issues in the context of the 2012-13 Commonwealth Budget.
We note the underpinning assumptions and parameters for the 2012-13 Budget as outlined by
the Treasurer in announcing the Pre-Budget submission invitation (December 19, 2011).
He emphasised that fundamentally the Australian economy is strong; that it continues to outperform the developed world with solid growth prospects, strong public finances, low unemployment, and a record pipeline of resources investment. Our strong economic performance compares favourably with Europe, for example, which is dealing with a sovereign debt crisis.
Further, that despite global economic developments which have reduced government revenues by around $140 billion over five years, the budget is ‘on track’ to return to surplus in 2012-13. This objective is paramount, and achieving it will require the Government to continue its ‘strong commitment to fiscal discipline and the need to offset any proposed new spending with equivalent savings’.
The Treasurer noted however that despite the imperative of ‘fiscal discipline’, sustainable economic development and a measure of social justice remain on the agenda:
The Government will continue its disciplined approach to spending, while also providing the necessary social protections for the most vulnerable in our community, and ensuring our nation is prepared for long-term challenges such as the transition to a clean energy future and the ageing of the population.
This is particularly relevant for Australia’s public schools. Public schools are the key to opportunity, economic growth and prosperity for all children and young people, communities and the nation as a whole. They remain our most significant vehicle for addressing social disadvantage.
It is only by implementing funding measures which ensure that high quality public education is available to every local community that we can hope to assure the highest quality outcomes for children and young people from all social backgrounds.
While increased investment in education in general is fundamental to generating the necessary knowledge, skills, creativity and productivity Australia requires in order to meet the challenges of the global economy, public schools in particular continue to be the only guarantee that every child has to an education.
The provision of high quality public schools which are accessible to all, and resourced to enable them to ensure all students are given the opportunity to fulfill their full potential and achieve equality in their learning outcomes, requires funding measures which satisfactorily address educational disadvantage.
This is central to the fundamental national goal of equity and excellence in education for all, and a crucial component of providing what the Treasurer calls ‘the necessary social protections for the most vulnerable in our community’.
There is considerable tension between ‘fiscal discipline’, as defined by the Treasurer (restoring the Budget to surplus from 2012-13 through constraints on spending and offsetting any proposed new spending with equivalent savings), and the urgent need for major reform in Australia’s schools funding arrangements.
The crucial need for major reform is widely known, and has been for some time; the most recent confirmation being the Gonski Review of Schools Funding, including the four research papers commissioned by the Review to examine current funding practices and key issues associated with the development of more equitable funding arrangements.
Overseen by David Gonski, the review of school's funding explores the best methods by which education can be provided to Australian students, regardless of their wealth. The Review of Funding for Schooling aims to achieve a funding system which is transparent, equitable, financially sustainable and effective in providing an excellent education for all Australian students, and which ensures that differences in educational outcomes are not the result of differences in wealth, income, power or possessions.
Regrettably, the schools funding policies (policy principles and funding formulae) of successive Commonwealth Governments over the last several decades have locked budgets into perpetuating funding arrangements which have been confirmed by the research papers commissioned by the Gonski Review to be:
The documented effects include a reversal in the share of Commonwealth funding for public and private schools, which is characterised by growing inequity in schooling outcomes and widening resource gaps between schools and sectors.
Considering that expenditure on schools funding is a major component of the Commonwealth Budget, these are hardly the hallmarks of a fiscally responsible funding system. Neither are they conducive to the kind of socially responsible funding arrangements implied by the Government’s policy commitments of reducing poverty and social exclusion.
There is ‘tension’, to say the least, between the inequity of current funding arrangements – an inequity which is widely recognised (including by the Government itself ) - and the Government’s frequently repeated commitment that not one private school will lose one dollar in funding regardless of its level of resources.
We recognise that it is not within the realms of the 2012-13 Budget to completely overhaul our current schools funding arrangements in order to make expenditure on school education equitable, efficient and fiscally and socially responsible. However we would urge the Treasurer to be mindful of the need for more appropriate and sustainable funding arrangements, consistent with the legitimate purposes and priorities of public expenditure on schooling as advocated by the Gonski Review, in the framing of the Budget.
Operation Sunlight is the Government’s reform agenda to improve the openness and transparency of public sector budgetary and financial management and to promote good governance practices.
Operation Sunlight has six key objectives:
1. Tightening the outcomes and outputs framework;
2. Changing the Budget Papers to improve their readability and usefulness;
3. Improving the transparency of estimates;
4. Expanding the reach of budget reporting;
5. Improving inter-generational reporting; and
6. Improving the financial framework.
Despite the Government’s commitment to Operation Sunlight, the lack of transparency which has characterised Australia’s schools funding arrangements for many years, and which is widely known and been commented on frequently by the Prime Minister and many others, remains.
It is noteworthy that at the time of the release of the research papers, the then Minister, Peter Garrett, reiterated that Australia has a complicated funding system which is not transparent and which has produced “some unfair and inequitable results”.
In his analysis of the current Budget, (2011-2012), Dr Jim McMorrow draws attention to some particularly ‘non-transparent’ areas of the schools education budget. He notes significant funding in the ‘schools-specific funding’ line –payments from National Partnership Payments, including the Building the Education Revolution programs, trade training centres for secondary schools, early childhood education payments and youth transition programs - which are not broken down by allocations across the public and private schooling sectors.
Dr McMorrow also draws attention to lack of transparency with regard to National Specific Purpose Programs; noting that payments under these programs form the bulk of Commonwealth programs for schools, amounting to just under $51 billion, or over 85% of all Commonwealth funding for schools over the four years of the current Budget period.
The payments include general recurrent grants for public and private schools, general capital grants, as well as the funding equivalent of the longstanding Commonwealth special purpose programs for literacy and numeracy, special education, country areas, language education and ESL tuition for new arrivals.
Dr McMorrow looks specifically at Literacy and Numeracy Programs to highlight the lack of transparency and consistency between the sectors.
The DEEWR Budget statement indicates that funding – for non-government schools – for the National Action Plan on Literacy and Numeracy is budgeted to increase from $6.8 million in 2011-12 to $162 million over each of the three other financial years in the forward estimates from 2012-13. At the same time, funding of $175 million for literacy and numeracy programs for government and non-government schools under National Partnership Payments is budgeted to conclude in 2011-12. It is unclear from Budget Papers whether Commonwealth funding for government schools under national
SPPs will match the increase for non-government schools.
He argues that this lack of transparency around the elements of Budget amounts for public schools in national SPPs is an ongoing issue which must be resolved; that the government needs to reassure the government schools sector that there is no intended inconsistency in the approach taken in budgeted amounts for literacy and numeracy for government and nongovernment schools.
This is necessary to assure the public that private schools/systems are not being unfairly advantaged over public schools/systems in the expenditure of public funding.
While the Treasurer is emphatic that ‘fiscal discipline’ requires spending restraint and identification of ‘savings’ to offset any new expenditure, the AEU considers that a more strategic, long-term approach which is both fiscally and socially responsible would have greater public investment in education, specifically public school education, as its centrepiece.
As the Treasurer keeps reminding us, the Australian economy is in strong shape. Therefore there is no compelling economic case to retreat from reform of our schools funding arrangements and greater public investment in education.
The most recent OECD data on public expenditure on school education shows that public expenditure on public schools in Australia was 71.3% of total public school expenditure, well below the OECD average of 86.1%. At the same time, public expenditure on private schooling was 21.8%, compared to the OECD average of 9.8%. Only two OECD countries ranked lower on public expenditure on public schooling.
Serious educational improvement and reform, based on bringing Australia up to at least the OECD average of overall investment in school education (currently 3.5% of GDP compared with an OECD average of 4.2%), would require additional expenditure of $ 10 billion a year, with significant targeted investments in school communities with the highest level of disadvantage and educational need.
The McMorrow analysis of the current (2011-12) Budget highlights the emphasis the Government made on ‘new investments’ in schools over the 4 years of the Budget estimates and projections for the next 4 financial years – 2011-12 to 2014-15.
These included $425 million to reward ‘top performing teachers’; $18 million for Teach Next, $222 million to extend school chaplaincy programs, and $200 million to support school students with a disability. However he notes that the $860 million of ‘new investments’ over the four years of the Budget estimates accounts for just 1.4% of the almost $60 billion that the Commonwealth has budgeted for schools over that period.
Dr McMorrow notes also the $1 billion in ‘savings’ through discontinuation of the NPP for schools, including $400 million for teacher quality and over $500 million for national literacy and numeracy programs, and also the wind-down of the one-off $16 billion Building the Education Revolution program which terminates in 2011-12.
His analysis makes a compelling case that 2011-12 represents ‘the high point’ of the Rudd and Gillard governments’ funding policies for government schools.
Commonwealth funding for government schools, outside of the BER, is estimated in the current Budget to reach 41% of all Commonwealth funding in 2011-12. This is in sharp contrast with the decline of Commonwealth priorities for government schools during the final years of the Howard government, which descended to a low of 35% of all Commonwealth funding for schools at that time.
[However] (T)he wind-down of Commonwealth programs in the current Budget has led to a significant difference in projected budget amounts for government schools: an increase of $282 million, or 5%, for government schools 2011-12 to 2014-15; compared with a projected increase of just over $2 billion, or 21%, for non-government schools over the same period.
This high-point in the Commonwealth’s funding of government schools in 2011-12 was delivered mainly through its increase in the general recurrent grants component of Commonwealth National Schools Specific Purpose Programs, and in key programs for teacher quality, literacy and numeracy and low SES school communities within National Partnership Payment to the states and territories.
McMorrow shows that government schools have received just over $1 billion (almost 75%) of the 2011-12 allocation for schools through NPPs, excluding the BER. This means they will be most affected by the projected by the projected 57% reduction in NPPs from $1.5 billion in 2011-12 to just under $630 million in 2014-15.
The conclusion and wind-down of significant programs for teacher quality and literacy and numeracy will only be partially off-set by increases in Schools Support programs [eg. new moneys for providing Rewards for Great teachers ($425 over four years), Rewards for School Improvements ($248 million) and School Chaplains ($222 million)].
This means that, in real terms, Commonwealth funding for government schools is estimated to reduce by around $330 million between 2011-12 and 2014-15. This effectively represents a 6% reduction in funding. By stark contrast, funding for non-government schools will increase, in real terms, by almost $940 million, or 11%.
This highlights the extent to which Budget outcomes continue to be driven by the policies and funding formulae of the Howard Government.
... [the] almost $7 billion in annual general recurrent grants for non-government schools continues to be built into Commonwealth Budget projections based on a relentlessly upward trend. These increases for non-government school result from key parameters of the general recurrent scheme introduced by the Howard Government in 2001, including: per capita grants linked to annual increases in average government schools recurrent costs (AGSRC); re-categorisation of non-government schools AEU Pre-Budget Submission 2012-2013 upwards, while protecting potential losers through Funding Maintained and Funding Guaranteed policies; and the provision of Commonwealth funding without any consideration of the resources available to schools from private sources.
The Henry Tax Review advocated a number of revenue strengthening reforms, and we can anticipate that the Gonski Review will advocate reforms to make our schools funding arrangements more equitable, socially responsible, sustainable, and efficient.
Active pursuit of these reforms requires greater educational investment to lift overall performance and address underachievement and disadvantage. Clearly the bulk of this increased investment should be targeted at schools in the public sector. Public schools serve the bulk of students with particular education needs; those associated with disability, Indigeneity, lack of English language proficiency (including refugees and migrants), low SES and remoteness, and the compounding effects of multiple disadvantage.
Significantly increased investment, accompanied by redirecting existing funding towards a more equitable set of priorities, will stand Australia in much greater stead, and promote social and economic fairness, far more than many of the current schools funding measures.
Analyses of Budget trends in previous Rudd/Gillard government schools education budgets, including that by Dr McMorrow, show the reliance of public schools on short-term ‘one-off’ funding programs, which by their very nature are unstable.
Dr McMorrow notes that the 2011-12 Budget, for example, has discontinued the following programs:
At the same time it has introduced new or extended programs in the following areas:
The lack of stability this demonstrates was intensified by the announcement in the 2011-12 MYEFO statement that approximately $353 million would be saved over three years from 2012-13 in the schooling sector through changes to the National Rewards for Great Teachers and the Reward Payments for School Improvement Programs.
Together with the lack of transparency in funding for public schools referred to earlier, the reliance of the public school sector’s improved share of Commonwealth schools funding on short-term, unstable programs, the easiest to stop or change as Dr McMorrow points out, highlights the vulnerability of Commonwealth funding for public schools.
There is no question that the Government’s response to the Gonski Review will have significant impacts on future schools Budgets. The Government must significantly reform the current funding arrangements by redressing the inequity in the current public/private school funding arrangements and the fragility and instability of Commonwealth funding of public schools.
Failure to do so will not only make a mockery of the Gonski Review and its advocacy of a fundamental change in the way Australia funds schooling in order to ensure that differences in educational outcomes are not the result of differences in wealth, income, power or possessions, but also continue to jeopardise the present and future of large numbers of children and young people who depend on a high quality public system for their educational futures.
The 2012-13 Budget could pave the way for implementing the recommendations of the Gonski Review by including a consideration of the resource levels required by schools to meet agreed educational outcomes. This would serve as a legitimate benchmark for a transparent assessment of public expenditure on schooling and foundation of a more rational and sustainable approach to setting national educational priorities and the level of public investment required to realise them.
However, until such time as a new funding system which provides a significantly increased investment in public schools is introduced, it is necessary for the Government to provide interim funding measures to ensure that funding for government schools does not decline over the life of the 2012-13 Budget.
Bearing in mind that analysis of the 2011-12 Budget shows that the winding up of programs such as the literacy and numeracy NP in 2011-12 will lead to an estimated reduction of 6%, in real terms, in Commonwealth government school funding over the years from 2011-12 to 2014-15, it is incumbent on the Government to announce a set of equity measures to provide a degree of funding stability and certainty for public schools.
We look forward to the announcement of such measures in the 2012-13 Budget.
A copy of the AEU’s budget submission can be found at: http://www.aeufederal.org.au/Publications/2012/PreBudgetSub2012-13.pdf