Last week, Federal Education Minister Jason Clare released the independent expert panel’s review into school funding, which urged Australia’s education ministers to fully fund public schools at the earliest opportunity.
Chaired by Dr Lisa O’Brien, the expert panel highlighted urgent action to address glaring funding gaps in Australia’s schools, noting that 98% of public schools remain underfunded.
Since David Gonski’s Review of Funding for Schooling in 2011, there have been multiple reports calling for all schools to be funded to 100% of their School Resourcing Standard (SRS), yet this goal has proven elusive for successive governments over the last 12 years.
So what lies behind the political hesitancy to fulfill such a critical need, not just for millions of young people across Australia, but for the economy itself?
Curtin University School of Education lecturer Dr Matthew Sinclair says that in his view, the primary driver of the majority of Australian schools continuing to be funded at less than 100% of the SRS is the imbalance of the federal and state and territory government funding of the three school sectors.
“For example, the federal government currently funds 20% of the SRS for all public schools, leaving the remaining 80% up to the states and territories, under the current National School Reform Agreement,” Dr Sinclair told The Educator.
“In contrast, the federal government provides 80% of all SRS funding to non-government schools [the Catholic and Independent school sectors] and 20% to public schools.”
Dr Sinclair noted that outside of the ACT, no state or territory is currently providing their full 80% of the SRS for public schools, and there is no legislative body and or law holding the states and territories accountable for their 80% contributions.
“Currently, as long as they show they are on a path to 75%, they will continue to meet the requirements of their current bilateral funding agreements with the federal government and, therefore, it is business as usual.”
‘It’s time to move from rhetoric to action’
Dr Sinclair said there needs to be more pressure put on politicians by voters to act on fairer school funding policy.
“Currently, the Australian Labor Party has been able to win power at the federal level, as well as in all but one of the Australian states and territories, without fully funding the SRS for all schools [bar the ACT],” he said.
“What I glean from this, is that currently, neither of the two major political parties see fully funding the SRS as an issue that influences election outcomes. This needs to change.”
Dr Sinclair said there also needs to be structural change in the way funding is distributed to schools.
“The first part of this, as I alluded to earlier, would be a better balance between the federal and state and territory governments for the funding of public schools,” he said.
“The second part, requires a combined commitment from both levels of government to locking in full funding of the SRS for all schools, without any loop holes or wiggle room, through the next set of bilateral funding agreements to be signed next year for July 2024 beyond.”