As Australia prepares to head to the polls, the nation’s peak teachers’ union is calling on the Federal Government to deliver “urgent” funding for public schools in line with the recommendations of the Gonski review delivered a decade ago.
According to the Australian Education Union’s 2021 State of our Schools Survey, public school principals, teachers and education support staff need greater support and resources to support students who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study found that a staggering 80% of all principals said they lacked necessary ongoing funds to support students who need extra help, while 73% said they need additional funds for ICT equipment for students.
There were also some worrying findings about the state of student wellbeing, with 63% of all teachers saying that student wellbeing had declined. Thirty-six per cent said it had “declined significantly”.
AEU Federal President, Correna Haythorpe, said the clear recommendations of the Gonski report have been “ignored” by successive Coalition Governments and, as a result, educational inequalities in Australia have continued to escalate.
“The Morrison Government has failed the public schools of Australia by repeatedly shirking their responsibility to properly and adequately fund public education,” Haythorpe said.
“By arbitrarily imposing a funding cap on Commonwealth contributions to public schools, the Morrison Government is ignoring the additional needs of students from disadvantaged and diverse backgrounds.”
Haythorpe pointed to the findings of the 2022 Report on Government Services, which revealed that the Federal Government currently provides only 16% of public school funding, at least $2bn per year below their already sub-standard 20% cap.
“In sharp contrast, per student government funding for private schools has grown at 2.5 times the rate of public schools in the last decade,” Haythorpe said.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequities in education at an accelerated pace. Without substantial investment in public school funding, buildings and equipment, public students will be left behind by the Morrison Government.”
Haythorpe said the upcoming Federal election is “an opportunity to elect a Federal Government that fairly and adequately funds public schools and prioritises quality education for all Australian children, no matter their background or circumstances.”
“It is an opportunity to restore the vision for fair funding for every school and every child laid out in the Gonski review.”
Pitching its pre-election school funding plan, Labor Leader Anthony Albanese announced a $440m grants-based initiative to help students and teachers manage the challenges of the pandemic. The package would include new grant funding for improved air ventilation in classrooms, building upgrades and more mental health services for schools.
“We need to learn from the pandemic. We need to use what the last two years have taught us to build a better future,” Albanese said.
Under Labor’s ‘Schools Upgrade Fund’, principals will be able apply for funding to improve the quality of their air ventilation systems, build more outdoor learning spaces and make repairs.
Labor has also promised funding towards a “wellbeing boost” that offers more counsellors and psychologists to address the growing mental health crisis among young people in Australia.
To highlight its investments toward education, the Federal Government recently pointed to figures from a Productivity Commission report that shows the share of public expenditure on all schools provided by the Australian Government increased from 26.3% in 2012–2013 to 31.7% in 2019–2020.
Acting Minister for Education and Youth, Stuart Robert, said this growth shows the Government is targeting its education funding right with initiatives like the Quality Schools package.
“The report shows that between 2012-13 and 2019-20, Australian Government funding per student for all schools increased significantly in real terms,” Minister Robert said.
“Government schools have been the biggest beneficiary of this growth, with Commonwealth per student funding growing by 64.1 per cent in real terms over the past 10 years compared with 49.8 per cent in non-government schools.”
The Acting Minister went on to say the government has record funding of $315.2bn for all schools between 2018 and 2029 under the Quality Schools package.
“A record $24.8bn will also be invested in schools this year, including a further $26.4bn which is expected in 2023,” he said.