No good news for public schools in 2016 Budget

The Giles Government has shown its priorities in education spending in this budget, again increasing spending in the non-government sector at the expense of public schools.

The AEU NT’s analysis of the 2016-17 Budget  handed down by David Tollner (pictured above) shows that there is no additional spending on public schools once cost growth and an increase in student enrolments is factored in.

This Budget continues the trend of drastic underinvestment in public education by the Giles Government. Overall spending on government education has actually fallen from $701 million in the 2013 financial year to $697 million in this budget.

The NT government is projected to spend less on public schools in the coming year than it did four years ago.

Far from championing public education, the Giles Government has dramatically cut the education workforce, with more than 500 staff slashed since the government came to power in 2012. The latest statistics from the Commissioner for Public Employment show that the trend continues in education, against the trend in the rest of the public sector, with another 80 staff cut since the end of last year (2016 March quarter). This makes a total of 538 positions cut from the Department of Education since this government came to power – nearly 12% of the workforce.

The AEU NT has compiled data on key figures in the budget to highlight the level of underinvestment in public education and also the discrepancies in funding between government and non-government sectors.

TABLE A: Spending on government vs non-government schools (millions of dollars)

2015-16 estimate2016-17 BudgetChange $Change %
Government education681 152697 513+16 361+2.4%
Non-government education219 902242 006+22 104+10.1%

Table A shows that spending in government education is budgeted to grow modestly at 2.4% per cent. This is likely a cut in real terms once cost growth such as salary increases of 3% for all Department of Education employees are considered. In contrast, the non-government sector will receive a whopping 10% increase, despite enrolment growth in the sector of less than 1% (see Table B below).

TABLE B: Student enrolment trends in government vs non-government schools

2015-16 estimate2016-17 BudgetChange Change %
Number of students enrolled in government schools*32 72933 505+776+2.4%
Number of students enrolled in non-government schools11 66211 763+101+0.9%

* Including preschool

Table B shows that student enrolments in the government sector have grown in the past year. The enrolment growth of 2.4% is exactly same as the overall increase in funding. This means the resourcing on a per student basis is the same in dollar terms as last year. There is no additional investment in this budget; it merely maintains existing resourcing levels.

TABLE C: Spending on core expenses in government education (millions of dollars)

2015-16 estimate2016-17 BudgetChange $Change %
Direct recurrent spending on government schools*425 900#447 000+21 100+5%
DoE total employee expenses457 333478 676+21 343+4.7%

* Global school budgets plus centrally managed expenses  # Based on estimate in 2015 Budget; actual figure likely larger

Table C shows there is a modest increase in the core operational funds allocated to schools. This is the recurrent funding that pays school staff salaries, funds student programs and most educational programs and is the most important figure to look at when judging the level of resourcing provided to schools. However, once we compare this figure to the growth in employee expenses, of which the great bulk relate to school-based staff, it is apparent that most of the increase in school budgets will merely cover the rising cost of teacher and support staff salaries. Under this government’s Global Funding model, the great majority of wages and other employee costs are now the responsibility of individual school principals to manage within their overall school budget.

TABLE D: Students First – federal funding for schools by sector (millions of dollars)

2016-17 Federal Budget*2016-17 NT BudgetDiscrepancy $Discrepancy %
Government schools167 300134 368-32 932-19.7%
Non-govt schools151 400166 507+15 107+10%

* 2016-17 Federal Budget Paper No. 3, p.30.

The most concerning figures in the education budget relate to the allocation of federal government spending on NT schools – the budget line known as Students First funding (better known as Gonski funding as it was labelled under the previous Gillard/Rudd government) .

Table D provides a comparison of what the recent federal budget allocated to NT government and non-government schools respectively. These figures do not align with the allocations in the NT Budget. It appears that public schools have been short changed and the contribution to non-government schools boosted.

The Giles Government should answer why there is a discrepancy between the figures.

We can already anticipate the response from Minister Chandler to our criticisms: he will claim that his government has invested a record amount in Territory education. The government likes to tout its recording spending in education, but lumping in infrastructure spending with recurrent spending on staff and programs is a deliberate tactic to hide the reality that under this government, resourcing on a per student basis to public schools has been cut dramatically, despite the Giles Government receiving a massive $272 million in Gonski funding from the federal government over four years beginning in 2014 specifically for public schools. 

The NT Government has chosen to underinvest in public schools at a time when governments across the country have lifted their level of investment in response to the findings of the Gonski review. Moreover, it has increased resourcing to private schools, so the argument cannot be made that this is just overall tightening. There is a complete lack of commitment to equity and needs-based funding. 

This Budget continues to deny resources to our public schools, and it is our most needy students who will pay the price.