Friday’s Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting produced a very mixed report card to the Prime Minister’s proposal to absolve itself of public school funding.
Several State premiers baulked at a proposal made by the PM last week that would see the Federal Government hand the responsibility of public school funding to the States and Territories.
While the Queensland, Victorian and Tasmanian premiers openly condemned the idea, the West Australian Premier, Colin Barnett, said dividing responsibility for state schools and Catholic and independent schools “made sense”.
Also keeping an open mind was NSW Premier, Mike Baird, who said he supported the idea of giving “more autonomy to states” but would push the PM on delivering needs-based Gonski funding in full.
In an interview which was broadcast on ABC on Friday, the Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, was asked why the Federal Government should end its involvement in public schools while continuing to fund private and Catholic schools.
Birmingham said that the States and Territories were still “overwhelmingly” the funders of public schools, adding that the Federal Government only contributes about 13% towards their funding.
“Yet we have agreements in place that are highly bureaucratic, that don’t give the Federal Government any say in how that is actually utilised,” he said.
“If you are a mum or a dad and you’re concerned about how your school is run or how much funding your school gets, we seem to be increasingly entering a world where the responsibility of whether you should complain to your state minister or the federal minister is blurred.”
Birmingham said such an arrangement was unhelpful for parents and for “accountability in the system”.
“It is far better for those parents to know that 100% of the funding and administrative decisions come from one single level of government, and that level of government is accountable for what happens in their school,” he said.
However, Federal Labor and the Australian Education Union (AEU) accused the Federal Government of effectively taking the axe to public schools, which have a significantly larger portion of disadvantaged and special needs students.
In a statement on Friday, the AEU’s federal president, Correna Haythorpe, said the COAG meeting demonstrated the “total failure of leadership” by Malcolm Turnbull on properly funding schools.
“It is clear that there is no appetite among State Governments for Mr Turnbull’s bizarre and disastrous proposal for the Federal Government to stop funding public schools and hand over full responsibility to the States,” Haythorpe said.
“Mr Turnbull must now focus on working directly with the States to deliver the full six years of Gonski funding that our schools need.”