A chance to get school funding right

School funding data compiled from the MySchool website shows how government resourcing of NT public schools has barely grown in dollar terms since 2010, while funding has soared for private schools.

The upcoming review of Global School Budgets should be used to overhaul the current model, writes Alyson Kavanagh.

In 2015 the Giles Government introduced global school budgets (GSB) as part of a package of reforms focused on “increasing school autonomy”.

As the Gonski (needs-based funding) Review was not used as the reference for the reforms, we remain unsure as to the formula used by the government to determine school budgets. The Department of Education cited Professor Stephen Lamb as its authoritative source and wrote that, “The distribution of funding to schools is based on the needs of students and student numbers as determined through the effective enrolment methodology.”

The impact of GSB has been problematic for schools in a number of areas, not least of which is the devolving of responsibility and increased pressure on principals and teachers. A key tenet of a devolved funding model as cited by Professor Lamb and his colleague Richard Teese is that, “Any model of resource allocation also needs to be transparent so that calculated assessments and allocations are clear and evident to schools and the community” Which government minister has ever heard of the word: “transparent”?

…the link between increased school autonomy and improved student outcomes is tenuous at best

According to the Department, GSB increases flexibility in decision making and this flexibility correlates to better learning outcomes for students. However, research from jurisdictions that have increased autonomy in schools, such as Western Australia, reveal that the link between increased school autonomy and improved student outcomes is tenuous at best.

There is no evidence to suggest that GSB and associated reforms like independent public schools actually help schools and teachers with their core business. Core business in schools is teaching, learning and supporting young people. Instead of supporting teachers in doing this work, every school in the NT now has the extra responsibility of demonstrating “transparency” by managing its own costs and budget. Devolving responsibility onto individual schools increases the administrative workload of school staff.

School funding has always been contentious. Again it is in the spotlight at the Federal level. The biggest review of school funding in decades, the Gonski report, outlined a better way to deliver funds to schools based on need. Unfortunately this was not transparent enough for the Giles Government who agreed to a funding arrangement that allowed huge cuts to Territory public schools.

Before the 2016 election, the AEU commissioned a report into NT school funding that showed funding for public schools had decreased between 2012 and 2014. Funding expert Bernie Shepherd wrote that the funding arrangements prior to 2015 were “an inexplicable inversion of thinking” in that schools with the greatest need had their budgets cut. Those schools in remote locations, with the most disadvantaged cohorts suffered the greatest loss in funding.

Despite the obvious problems with the Global Funding model, the incoming Labor Government pledged that it would maintain Global School Budgets and make the system work more effectively, by providing more administrative support to schools in the form of additional business managers.

…the Minister pledged that the Government would increase its share of school funding within the NT Budget and also committed that “any additional school funding from the Australian Government will be directed to support Territory students”

Nonetheless, once in office Labor took two significant steps, something the AEU NT and our members can take a lot of credit for, as they were both directly a result of our campaigning and lobbying.

In November 2016, Education Minister Eva Lawler wrote to all DoE employees and made explicit reference to the Gonski funding formula and the associated School Resourcing Standard as “the basis for funding schools”. Whilst not providing explicit endorsement of the notion that the NT would become a Gonski jurisdiction, the Minister did pledge that the Government would increase its share of school funding within the NT Budget and also committed that “any additional school funding from the Australian Government will be directed to support Territory students”.

This last commitment was very important – as the AEU pointed out repeatedly, the previous Government had diverted Gonski funding away from directly assisting students and into infrastructure spending.

A recent information request from the AEU revealed that in the 2016-17 Budget, $20 million was diverted away from schools, out of a total of $143 million allocated from the Commonwealth. To put that figure in perspective, $20 million could fund the employment of up to 200 teachers for one year.

The second major commitment Minister Lawler made in her letter was to conduct an independent review of the GSB model.

The review is scheduled to take place in April, with the final report scheduled to be delivered in July. As an interim measure, Labor has fulfilled its election commitment to increase schools’ recurrent funding by $20 million. GSB loadings have been increased and most schools will receive additional funding.

Dale Wakefield, Minister for Territory Families, announced in January that, “as we re-invest in our schools we want to ensure we have a funding model that is equitable and transparent, and distributes funding to schools based on the needs of students. The review will assess the current school funding model and make evidenced and practical recommendations on how it may be enhanced. The review will consider the way school budgets are calculated, including the use of effective student enrolment data and weightings in the funding model to address student needs. The review will also look at what is paid for and managed by schools and what is paid for and managed centrally by the department.”

The AEUNT has been a vocal opponent to global school budgeting, particularly the inclusion of staffing costs. We believe that staffing costs should be centrally funded. Evidence has shown that more experienced teachers are becoming nervous about their ability to change schools given their impact on the bottom line.

The effect of including staffing costs in global budgets has led to an increase in the numbers of contract teachers and increased turnover of staff.

The review is an important opportunity to raise these and other concerns. School staff will be able to make submissions to the review and we urge all members to make a submission on how Global School Budgets have impacted on your school.

The AEU will also be making a submission and will be requesting feedback from members, whether principals, teachers, consultants. advisers or support staff, to inform our proposals on reshaping the current funding model.

This article was also published in print in the Term 1 edition of the Territory Educator magazine.