Crunch time on school funding

AEU campaigners and supporters at the launch of our Fair Funding Now election campaign

The future of the Territory’s public schools is on the line at the federal election, writes Branch President Jarvis Ryan*

Late last year the NT Government reached an agreement with the Federal Government on school funding for 2019 and beyond.

It is a deeply inequitable agreement that will leave Territory students further behind the rest of the country and widen the resourcing gap between public and private schools. This is no accident – it’s how the agreement was designed, with federal funding to public schools capped at just 20 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS).

The NT Government had to sign this agreement or be faced with the risk of receiving no funding for Territory schools this year.

Under the terms of the deal, the NT Government has committed to significant funding increases over the next six years – upping its contribution to public education by nearly 5 per cent per year.

But there is no additional funding from the Commonwealth for public schools – only “maintenance of effort”. That means the NT Government is being asked to do all the heavy lifting, with no reciprocation from Canberra.

The AEU’s estimate is that by 2023, NT public schools will only be funded to 83 per cent of the SRS, a nationally-agreed benchmark on the level of public funding required to ensure schools can provide for the needs of their students.

The original Gonksi agreement was to fund all schools to at least 95 per cent of the SRS. Under this deal, our public schools will fall well short – in dollar terms, by about $80 million per year.

In human terms, this means tens of thousands of students will go without vital support, in the form of additional teachers, disability advisers, literacy coaches and so much more. Without this support, many disadvantaged students will not be able to overcome the barriers to success.

By contrast, the NT private school sector will get to the 95 per cent SRS benchmark by 2023, because the Federal Government will fund up to 80 per cent of their SRS amount.

Education will be a major battleground in the federal election. Scott Morrison has pushed through deals which cut funding to public schools. Under a Liberal National government, 99 per cent of public schools will fail to reach the minimum SRS benchmark.

In contrast, Bill Shorten and Labor have promised to lift the federal SRS cap for public schools and boost funding by $3.3 billion nationally over the next three years.

For the Territory, that would mean an additional $41 million for our neediest students over three years, and the opportunity to negotiate a longer-term arrangement with both tiers of government working together to ensure all our schools are funded to 100 per cent of the minimum standard.

The AEU is not politically affiliated, and we don’t attempt to instruct members how to vote. That’s a decision for you, and I’m sure you’ll look at multiple issues in making your decision.

From my perspective, looking at the commitments and record of the major parties, it’s clear that Labor’s education package is vastly superior to the Coalition’s. When the federal election is over, I’m hopeful we’ll have a government that is committed to fairness in education.

* This article was published as an editorial in the Term 1, 2019 edition of the Territory Educator magazine.