Handing down the Federal Budget on Tuesday night, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced that schools and universities will receive millions in new funding over the next four years.
Millions of young Australians stand to benefit from a range of new programs, including a $17m grants programs for Indigenous boarding providers and a new $10.9m regional scholarship program.
An additional $62.4m will also be provided to continue support to projects that enable better student educational outcomes through the National School Reform Fund and the Non-Government Reform Support Fund.
“Quality education is a key driver of opportunity for all Australians and is a cornerstone commitment of the Government’s plan for the future,” Federal Education Minister, Stuart Robert, said.
“Our Budget supports choice in school, and early childhood education, particularly for families in regional and remote communities, and funds initiatives to assist students whose schooling was disrupted by COVID-19 – and more recently the major floods – and who may be at risk of falling behind or disengaging from education.”
More than $10m in funding towards an Emerging Priorities Program will assist schools to help students who have been affected by the pandemic and the recent floods.
The Budget also included $7m in funding to help schools continue to provide inclusive, respectful school classroom environments, and $6m to support schools in delivering evidence-based and age-appropriate respectful relationship education programs.
Mental health was also a key focus of the Budget, with the government announcing $9.7m for new measures to help teachers and school leaders better understand and respond to the mental health and wellbeing needs of students.
Principals welcome extra funding for school resources
Responding to the release of the Budget, the Australian Secondary Principals’ Association (ASPA) said it supports any “additional resourcing that supports our principals in the delivery the highest quality education.”
“The $19m allocated to respectful education is most welcome and will significantly contribute not only to our schools but to our Australian community as well,” ASPA president, Andrew Pierpoint, told The Educator.
“Additionally, funding that has been allocated to suicide prevention and mental health – learning we have from COVID – is most positive.”
Pierpoint said that together with funds that support principals addressing classroom environments – the latest resourcing announcement is welcome.
“ASPA looks forward to the majority of this funding ‘coming in the school gate’ so principals can continue to make a difference in the lives of our youth.”
The National Catholic Education Commission also welcomed the Budget, saying the extension of the Non-Government Reform Support Fund for a further year will enable Catholic schools to continue to implement agreed national and state-based reform initiatives set out in the National School Reform Agreement, and other emerging priorities.
“These priorities include initial teacher education, learning progressions and online formative assessment, the review of senior secondary pathways, disability standards and the Australian Curriculum review,” NCEC executive director, Jacinta Collins, said.
“These are significant reform agendas to improve educational standards and learning outcomes in schools and we thank the government for their ongoing commitment and recognition that these areas require adequate resourcing.”
Helping communities recover from chaos
Beth Blackwood, CEO of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia, said there were several good news items in the Budget that, while not directly targeted at schools, will bring substantial benefits.
"We were particularly pleased to see significant new investment in initiatives to improve regional connectivity. This is something AHISA has supported in several submissions to government, including our submission to the federal government’s Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education way back in 2017," Blackwood told The Educator.
“The increased provision for students living in regional and remote areas to attend boarding schools, including Indigenous students, is also very welcome. Without the option to attend a school away from home some students would have very reduced secondary schooling opportunities."
Together with already legislated recurrent grants and investment in post-secondary opportunities, Blackwood said this bundle of items "offers the biggest Budget win for students in the regions that I can recall."
Association of Independent Schools NSW (AISNSW) chief executive, Dr Geoff Newcombe, said the measures for schools outlined in the Budget will support families in non-metropolitan areas.
“For several years, these families have dealt with recurring natural disasters such as drought, bushfires and floods as well as the COVID-19 pandemic and mouse plagues,” Dr Newcombe said.
“I want to thank the Minister for Education and Youth, Stuart Robert, for his robust advocacy in securing funding for these measures and for $1.37m to assist students of Independent schools in flood ravaged areas. In many cases, these families have not only lost their homes, but all their possessions and their livelihoods.”
Dr Newcombe also thanked Senator Bridget McKenzie, the Minister for Regional Education, saying her “enthusiastic support” for communities outside the capital cities helped ensure more families across Australia can access vital early learning, boarding and other education services.”
‘Budget gives blatant preference to private schools’
However, the Australian Education Union was more critical of the Budget, saying the Federal Government has “put public education last”.
“The Morrison Government has once again failed public school, preschool and TAFE staff, students and parents across the nation,” AEU federal president, Correna Haythorpe, said.
“This budget is incredibly disappointing, but not surprising given the blatant preference for private schools and private VET providers that the Morrison Government continues to show at the expense of public schools and TAFEs.”
Haythorpe said the Budget stripped public schools of $559m over the next three years while increasing funding for private schools by $2.6bn over the forward estimates.
“No funding has been allocated for capital works in public schools, and no additional funding has been allocated for preschools,” she said.
“It is public schools that are witnessing booming enrolment growth and have the greatest need for capital spending on new buildings and state of the art facilities and yet the Morrison Government has failed to deliver that funding.”