‘Giving a Gonski’ has become a slogan for ‘caring’ about education but seemingly without bothering to understand what it actually means.
For years now, so-called Gonski funding — the National Education Reform Agreement (NERA) — has been held up as the holy grail of education policy by many people, including some state governments and teacher unions.
As the Gillard government’s six-year school funding agreement with most of the states in 2013, the NERA included substantial increases in spending on schools by both federal and state governments. However, most of the increase was allocated for the final two years in 2018 and 2019 which the current federal government has been strongly urged to fund.
This makes two recent developments quite ironic.
First, it was revealed earlier this month that four state and territory governments reduced their recurrent school funding in 2014-15. The Australian Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services 2017 shows South Australia, Tasmania, and the ACT — all participants in the NERA funding agreements — cut their recurrent school funding, contrary to what was originally agreed.
Second, last week one of the Gonski Report panellists, Ken Boston, said it is a misunderstanding to refer to the NERA as ‘Gonski funding agreements’ and in reality neither side of federal politics has ever adopted the Gonski Report. The truth is the NERA is contrary in many ways to what Gonski proposed.
Given that neither side of politics is embracing the Gonski Report (and now that four of the states and territories appear unwilling to commit to, or are unable to afford, ‘Gonski funding’) it is appropriate for both federal and state governments to consider alternative school funding arrangements.
Other possibilities include school vouchers, charter schools, and transferring all education policy and funding responsibilities to the states as recommended by the National Commission of Audit.
The fact that none of these alternative school funding options were even considered in the Gonski Report simply highlights the limitations of the ‘I give a Gonski’ sloganism.