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Wednesday, 9 May 2007
Page: 144

Senator TROOD (7:06 PM) —I want to take the opportunity in the adjournment debate this evening to make some remarks about the Investing in Our Schools Program, which I regard as being one of the most creative and imaginative programs for schools funding offered by any federal government at any time since Federation. This program was offered at the time of the 2004 federal election, and provided for a billion dollars to be made available to government and non-government schools for small-scale infrastructure projects.

It is significant that this fund is to be made available in addition to the $1.7 billion that the federal government has already provided to state and territory governments through capital grants programs. This is unusual because the states are supposed to fund schools—certainly the infrastructure and building activities in schools—but clearly the states are not funding their schools in ways which are reasonable and to be expected. Notwithstanding all the money that states get for these purposes and all the additional funds that they get from GST revenue, many schools, certainly in my own state of Queensland, are failing to get the kind of infrastructure support that they need from the state government. Indeed, in 2005-06 only 52 schools in Queensland benefited from a fund of about $10 million for building facilities. That was clearly well below the expectations and needs of the Queensland school community.

The Investing in Our Schools Program had very significant advantages for those schools that chose to participate, the first of which was that the money was provided directly to the schools themselves. That meant that schools could avoid having their money siphoned through state educational bureaucracies. The grants that they sought were the grants that they received and they could put them towards the purposes for which they were intended. The second great advantage was that it gave schools a high degree of autonomy. They were able to decide what the particular funding priorities were in their school community. They could decide the things that were important to them and, provided they came under the program guidelines, they could make an application if they chose to do so. The third great advantage of this program was that it provided opportunities for government schools and non-government schools—from the Catholic sector and independent sector—to seek grants up to $100,000.

Not surprisingly, it was a program which was very attractive to a large number of schools across the country. In the first two rounds of the program in Queensland, there were over 1,000 government schools that received funding of around $122 million. Nationally, in the third round of the program, there was an amount of $650 million in grants to over 6,000 government schools for 15,000 projects. There were a large number of schools across the country that chose to participate in the program and a large number of beneficiaries, and they covered a wide range of activities. In the south-west of Brisbane, where my office is, a large number of schools applied for and were successful in getting grants for a range of activities. For example, Harris Fields State Primary School received $97,000 for an ICT upgrade. The Redbank Plains State Primary School received $83,000 for a multipurpose activity court. The Durack State Primary School received $13,000-odd for the purchase of musical instruments. There were a range of other grant applications for classroom refurbishments and playground upgrades that were successful, and one school was successful in getting a grant for a stage for its large hall so that it could undertake drama activities. These grants were only relatively small, up to $100,000, but they made a very significant difference to the school communities which were successful in receiving them. They vastly improved the learning and teaching environment for the pupils in those schools and so, not surprisingly, there was a huge amount of enthusiasm for this program within school communities. In all the schools that I visited where these grants were received, there was a great degree of enthusiasm. The school communities were delighted to have had the opportunity to apply for the program, and all of them—every single community—felt that the program had served the purpose for which it was originally intended.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it was in that context that the government decided in February of this year to extend the Investing in Our Schools Program with an additional $127 million in funding for state schools and another $54 million in non-government funding. That means that, over the life of the program since 2004, $827 million has been provided to government schools and $354 million to non-government schools. That is a figure of about $1.2 billion spread across schools across the country in addition to the large-scale capital expenditure of $1.7 billion already provided by the Commonwealth.

This year’s budget, announced last night, continues this very strong tradition of the Commonwealth funding school communities through a range of a new programs. I think this is one of the most significant federal education budgets since Federation. It will provide, for example, $121 million over four years to more than 400 regional and remote non-government schools to attract and retain teachers. It will provide an additional $53 million to improve literacy and numeracy skills, particularly in years 3, 5, 7 and 9. It will provide $50 million to assist non-government boarding schools, particularly those that cater for remote areas and accommodate Indigenous students. Finally, there is a figure of $15.3 million in the budget that has been allocated to the urgent upgrades and repairs of boarding schools across the country.

These programs—the programs announced in the budget last night and the program that existed, the Investing in Our Schools Program—underscore a very strong commitment on the part of the Commonwealth to supporting our school community. The Investing in Our Schools Program has provided an excellent physical learning and teaching environment for pupils and teachers in our schools, and the commitments that the budget made last might underscore the need for continual improvement in our school programs by providing strong support for quality teaching, strong support for quality teaching outcomes and an opportunity for schools in some of the more remote parts of the country—that is particularly attractive in Queensland—to take advantage of these many programs. I commend these programs to the Senate.