December 29, 2015 – 9:27AM
Communications and education correspondent
The Turnbull government will not fund the final two years of the Gonski school funding deals and will not compete with Labor in an election-year battle to shower more money on schools, Education Minister Simon Birmingham says.
The elevation of Malcolm Turnbull – a close friend of school funding reform architect David Gonski – to the prime ministership fuelled hopes among state governments and teachers’ unions that the government would fund the six years of Labor’s school agreements.
Senator Simon Birmingham: working on a new funding formula. Photo: Andrew Meares
NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli and Victorian Education Minister James Merlino have been lobbying for the Gonski deals to be funded in full.
But in an interview with Fairfax Media, Senator Birmingham said the Coalition would seek to strike fresh funding deals with the states from 2018 – the year two-thirds of the $10 billion funding was scheduled to start flowing.
Instead of handing out big funding increases, he said his focus will be on creating a simpler funding system that holds state governments accountable for how they spend federal money.
“I don’t see much benefit for anyone if we dedicate two more years of funding just to create more uncertainty down the track,” Senator Birmingham said.
“The previous [Labor] government’s approach showed great largesse in tipping additional funding into the system, but they created a complicated model that lacks fairness and transparency.
“I want a school funding system that is genuinely needs-based and is targeting the money where it’s most required.”
Senator Birmingham said he supports the underlying principles of the Gonski model – which distributes more funding to schools with disadvantaged students – but that simply spending more will not necessarily improve educational outcomes.
The minister said he hoped to negotiate new funding deals with the states to last at least four years from 2018. These are unlikely to be negotiated before the next federal election, which is due to be held in September or October.
Labor is set to go the election promising big increases in school funding paid for by raising tobacco taxes.
“We won’t be driven by what Labor will or won’t do,” Senator Birmingham said. “We will run our own race.”
In a signal to the states to expect tough negotiations, Senator Birmingham said the federal government does not have a “limitless” amount of money to spend on schools. The budget update released earlier this month showed the Commonwealth deficit blowing out by a further $26 billion over four years.
Many states are in fact in a better fiscal position than the federal government, he said.
In a significant change from the Abbott era, Senator Birmingham flagged a more interventionist role for the federal government in schools policy, with new funding tied to specific measures such as giving principals more control over their budgets and improved teacher quality.
Previous education minister Christopher Pyne sought to strip out the “command and control” features of the Gonski reforms, saying he would not “infantilise” the states by telling them how to spend money.
“There has been a very significant growth in funding to schools but that hasn’t been matched with a clear focus on improving school outcomes,” Senator Birmingham said.
“If you are going to deliver extra funding into the education system, it has to be clear how the money will be used.”
He said some schools have done “fantastic things” with the extra Gonski money such as employing speech pathologists and investing in phonics teaching.
“But some officials have said, ‘We’re not quite sure what we’re going to do with the extra money, we’re just going to employ more teachers’,” he said.
“We should not just follow the tired old union formula that smaller class sizes deliver better educational outcomes.”
Source : Sydney Morning Herald