Turnbull’s funding model will leave NT public schools further behind

(Turnbull pictured with federal member for the Solomon electorate, Natasha Griggs)

Malcolm Turnbull appears to be making up his education funding policy on the run.

Malcolm Turnbull and Education Minister Simon Birmingham have been caught out trying to deny cuts to funding of public schools in Tasmania and the Northern Territory that are included in their own Budget Papers. The Coalition’s confusion on its own schools funding policy has been exposed, as has the claim that it would still deliver needs-based funding despite cutting billions in Gonski funding.

“They say that their new funding model will be needs-based, yet their own figures show they are stripping money from public schools in the two jurisdictions with the highest need – the NT and Tasmania,” said AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe.

“The pre-election fix the Coalition has announced is falling apart, with no idea how much funding will go to each State, or how it will be distributed.

“The Federal Budget Papers clearly show that federal funding for public schools in the NT drops from $167.3 million in 2016/17 to $138.4 million in 2018/19.

“Likewise in Tasmania federal funding to public schools drops by $1.8 million from 2017/18 to 2018/19, a far cry from the 3.56% annual increase promised.

The decrease in NT funding is despite the fact that the Northern Territory has one of the most socio-economically disadvantaged populations in Australia

Of the 100 most disadvantaged schools nationally, 54 are in the NT, and 44 per cent of NT students live in remote or very remote locations, compared to 2.2% nationally.

But when questioned by the media in Darwin on Wednesday of this week, Malcolm Turnbull attempted to walk away from the figures saying that “he did not believe that to be true”.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham then said that the Budget was an “indicative allocation” only and that the NT would receive “significantly increased funding.”

He also told media in Tasmania that cuts to public schools were “indicative allocations” only.

“How can we have confidence in what the Coalition is promising, when they walk away from their own Budget and simply tell States and Territories to take on trust that they will get more funding?” Ms Haythorpe said.

“This is not needs-based funding, it is making it up as you go along. Schools need certainty around funding so they can deliver the best results for their students.

“It is clear that the Coalition has not worked out the basics of its own policy. It has no idea how the funding will be distributed, no idea what each State will receive and no idea how its conditions will be enforced.

“It is no wonder that no State Government has agreed to the plan, and that the NSW Coalition government is still calling on Malcolm Turnbull to fund the Gonski agreements in full.”

Simon Birmingham has already admitted to Senate Estimates that he has no idea where the extra $1.2 billion will come from.

He also could not say how funding was to be distributed between States and school systems, telling Estimates that: “The Commonwealth will engage in discussions with the states and territories and the non-government sectors around the future distribution model.”

Despite talking about the conditions to be imposed on States to receive extra schools funding under the Coalition, he was asked what would happen if they refused to agree to the conditions and could only reply “I don’t know”.

“It is clear there is no detail available for the Coalition’s funding system. There are no guarantees that States won’t lose funding, or that funding will be distributed on the basis of student need.”

“We don’t need a new funding system. The Gonski Review was the most thorough review of school funding arrangements in a generation. It clearly found that the best way for us to invest in schools was to target increased funding to the schools which educate the highest numbers of disadvantaged students.

“Disadvantaged schools and students don’t need a quick fix funding policy, they need the full $4.5 billion to fund the Gonski agreements in full.

“This is the way our schools will get the resources they need to properly educate all their students.”

Projected funding for NT public schools

Financial year Amount in millions of $ Change on year before (millions of $)
2016-17167.3+ 23.8

* First year of Malcolm Turnbull’s new funding policy. Source: 2016 Federal Budget papers