In a stunning political move, the government seized the Gonski high-ground this week by announcing Gonski 2.0 — another review into how school funding is spent.
This is because ‘I give a Gonski’ has become the equivalent of ‘I am holier than thou’ in education debates.
By having David Gonski appear with the Prime Minister and Education Minister for a press conference, the government neutralised the campaign for more ‘Gonski funding’. The government also announced it would significantly increase spending on schools, end special funding deals with non-government school systems, and cut funding to a few ‘overfunded’ independent schools.
This may be smart politics. But is it good policy?
In reality, all the government’s announcements yesterday are distractions from the fundamental problems with Australia’s current school funding model.
We don’t need more money: Australia’s school spending is higher than the OECD average and real government spending per student has risen by seven per cent in the past five years, while Australia’s literacy and numeracy results have declined over the same period.
Actually, the promise of additional billions for schools over the next ten years is basically a bribe to try to keep non-government schools happy after losing special deals with the government. Currently, there are piecemeal funding arrangements between the federal government and the Independent and Catholic schools systems, based on opaque negotiations. At least the government is sensibly moving away from this towards a fairer, consistent federal funding allocation, but at a massive cost.
We don’t have a pressing problem with ‘overfunded’ non-government schools: in 2014 the alleged ‘overfunding’ of independent schools according to the current funding benchmark was $215 million — a lot of money, but obviously a minuscule proportion of the $53 billion in total government spending on schools in the same year.
And we certainly don’t need Gonski 2.0: we’re still recovering from the mess resulting from Gonski 1.0.
The school funding model Gonski 1.0 came up with turned out to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to implement. The proposed model included a base level of funding per student and extra funding for schools with disadvantaged students.
But following the Gillard government’s negotiations with the states and non-government schools, the criteria for disadvantage was expanded so much that over 50 per cent of Australian students are now considered ‘disadvantaged’ and receive extra funding.
Yes, you read that right: Australian students who don’t receive extra funding for their ‘disadvantage’ are a minority.
This is not grounded in evidence, not financially viable in the long-term, and means the funding benchmark is unreasonably high. The government should fix this but obviously it is easier to spend billions more taxpayer dollars instead.
Christopher Pyne famously coined the phrase ‘Conski’. I can’t help thinking if he was still education minister he would call this Conski 2.0.
Blaise Joseph is an Education Policy Analyst at The Centre for Independent Studies and author of The Fantasy of Gonski Funding: the ongoing battle over school spending, released on Monday.
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