One of the delicious ironies of politics is the tendency for one side to admonish the other side for doing something, only to then turn around and do exactly the same thing.
We saw this last night with school funding, where the Coalition government confirmed that its promised additional spending on schools is largely unfunded.
Basically, in the budget every year there is something called the forward estimates: the budget projections for the next three years where the government funds its policies into the future.
Back in the 2013 budget, the Labor government promised an additional $10 billion for schools, but $7 billion of this was allocated for beyond the forward estimates period—that is, 70 per cent of the money was not funded in the budget going forward. The Labor government was (rightly) condemned by the Coalition opposition for unfunded promises and placing a fiscal burden on future governments.
In last night’s budget, the Coalition government did essentially the same thing. The government promised to spend an additional $18.6 billion over the next 10 years, but just $2.2 billion is funded over the next four years within the forward estimates—averaging $550 million per year—leaving the other $16.4 billion for the last 6 years beyond the forward estimates—averaging $2.7 billion per year.
In other words, 88 per cent of the additional school funding promised by the government is unfunded.
The Coalition government has promised to grow total annual school funding from $17.5 billion in 2017 to $30.6 billion in 2027, with much faster funding growth in the last 6 years.
But this massive 75 per cent increase in spending still won’t lead to any substantial changes in the percentage of the current funding benchmark, the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS), received by schools. By 2027 the federal government will only fund 20 per cent of the SRS for public schools (just a minor increase from 17 per cent this year) and 80 per cent of the SRS for non-government schools (another minor increase from 77 per cent this year).
This proves the SRS in an unjustifiably high benchmark. Why is it so high? Because the majority of Australian school students are considered ‘disadvantaged’ and receive extra funding (as you can guess, this is based on no evidence whatsoever). In fact, the extra funding for ‘disadvantaged’ students represents 25 per cent of the total cost of the SRS.
The government should have announced a review into the obviously deficient SRS. Instead, they promised to radically increase school spending and place a heavy burden on future governments to find most of the money.
On the bright side, the Coalition government should be commended for having the courage to finally end the inconsistencies and special deals in school funding with independent and Catholic schools. But this comes at a great expense to the taxpayer.
Those of us who have been waiting years for a reform of the deeply flawed school funding model are still waiting.
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 last week.
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