Equitable funding in Australia’s schools just took a step closer to becoming reality

Equitable funding in Australia’s schools just took a step closer to becoming reality

On Wednesday, equitable funding in Australia’s schools took a step closer to becoming reality when the Federal Government announced that all public schools in the Northern Territory would be funded to 100% of the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) by 2029.

The news, which has been broadly welcomed, follows a similar announcement for Western Australia’s schools, made less than two months earlier.

For the Northern Territory’s public schools, the agreement means they will reach the full and fair funding level two decades earlier than they would under current settings, providing more resources to help support needy students improve their education outcomes.

The Federal Government has committed to providing an extra $737.7m in funding from 2025 to 2029 in Northern Territory public schools, while the NT Government will invest at least $350m over the same period, prioritising the most disadvantaged schools.

Northern Territory Minister for Education Mark Monaghan said no other Government in the history of the Northern Territory has achieved full and fair funding for students and schools.

“This landmark investment by the Territory and Federal Labor Government will make an immediate difference in our schools ranging from salaries to class sizes and technology, and under this agreement our most disadvantaged schools will receive more funding first,” Monaghan said.

Bridging educational inequities

The Australian Secondary Principals' Association (ASPA) president Andy Mison said the $1bn funding package will have “a profound impact” on the lives of students, particularly those from remote areas.

“This investment will also help bridge the educational inequities that have persisted for too long in the NT,” Mison told The Educator.

However, Mison said there is “a note of concern” for the current students who may not directly benefit from the full levels of funding until 2029.

“While we are thrilled with this positive step toward supporting children in the Northern Territory, some students who are already disadvantaged may not experience the full benefits of the funding,” he said.

“It is crucial that we continue to prioritise their needs and ensure that they receive the necessary resources and support during this transitional period. We must ensure that the needs of every student are met, regardless of the timeline for full funding.”

Catholic schools eye full finding

The National Catholic Education Commission said it anticipates the complete funding of all NT schools in the forthcoming round of bilateral agreements.

Across Australia, over 42% of Catholic students receive funding for socio-educational disadvantage, and nearly 40% of Catholic schools are located in rural, regional, and remote areas.

In the Northern Territory, Catholic schools serve alongside public schools in remote locations and are sometimes the sole providers of schooling in the area. There are 18 Catholic schools in the NT, educating over 4,800 students, with approximately 31% of students coming from First Nations backgrounds.

“The Australian and Northern Territory governments' agreement will significantly enhance the resources for public school communities in the NT, which are among the most disadvantaged and remote in Australia," NCEC executive director, Jacinta Collins said.

“Catholic schools receive almost 5% less funding from the Northern Territory Government than warranted, so we expect a commitment to fully fund Catholic school communities in the next round of agreements.”

Paul Greaves, director of Catholic Education Northern Territory, highlighted the financial struggles faced by Catholic school communities, emphasising that many families are dealing with cost-of-living pressures.

"As a small system of schools in some of the remotest and most disadvantaged areas in Australia, full government funding - both territory and federal - is essential to ensure equitable educational opportunities for students," Greaves said.

“In remote and very remote schools, especially those serving First Nations communities, school fees are waived, and significant fee relief is provided to families in financial hardship. Full and fair funding for all NT students in both public and non-government schools must be a priority for the Northern Territory Government.”

‘A half-arsed effort’

Greens spokesperson on Primary & Secondary Education, Senator Penny Allman-Payne said while the announcement was generally welcome, it was “a half-arsed effort that will not deliver 100% of the Schooling Resource Standard to a single Territory student.”

“Labor created this broken funding model when they fumbled the Gonski recommendations, and now they’re delivering a sloppy patch-up job and declaring ‘mission accomplished,” Allman-Payne said.

“Not only is this extra funding not going to be fully delivered until 2029, there is no indication that Labor plans to ditch the dodgy Morrison-era clauses that allow states and territories to deduct 4% in non-school costs from their funding contribution.”

Allman-Payne noted that the SRS calculation, on which funding is based, “is not full funding by any measure”, adding that the SRS is the bare minimum of funding a school needs to get 80% of students above the minimum NAPLAN standard.

“It’s been 12 years since Gonski, and now kids in the NT, which is the most egregiously under-resourced public system in the country, will have to wait another five years for funding that doesn't even lift them to the minimum standard,” she said.

“I’m not going to do cartwheels over a deal that locks in underfunding for the most disadvantaged kids in the country.”

'Accounting tricks must end'

Save Our Schools' National Convenor Trevor Cobbold says claims by the Albanese and NT Governments that public schools in the Territory will be fully funded by 2029 deserve closer scrutiny.

"The NT's public schools will be funded at only 96% of their SRS because accounting tricks in the current agreement will be retained in the new agreement," Cobbold said. 

"As a result, public schools in the Northern Territory will be swindled of nearly $240 million over the next five years."

Cobbold says the NT Government will continue to be allowed to claim as part of its SRS share expenditures that are specifically excluded from how the SRS is measured, including expenditure on depreciation, direct school transport, and early childhood expenditure up to 4% of the total SRS.

"As a result, public schools will lose over $40 million a year over the life of the agreement. The NT agreement follows the WA agreement in continuing the swindle," Cobbold said.

"It is apparent that the swindles in the other agreements, apart from the ACT, will also continue. The Federal Education Minister, Jason Clare said that removal of the accounting tricks is not part of the current funding negotiations and will not be considered until the next round of agreements."

Cobbold said this means they all remain for at least another five years, losing public schools over $13bn in funding over the period.

"The Federal Government must be congratulated for this landmark agreement, but continuing under-funding of public schools impairs improving school results for disadvantaged students, the large majority of whom are enrolled in public schools."

"Disadvantaged students can’t wait to be fully funded."