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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4764


Mr SYMON (Deakin) (13:07): I speak in support of the Australian Education Bill 2012 and against the amendment moved by the member for Sturt. This bill provides the framework for a needs-based school-funding model that incorporates the work of the Review of Funding for Schooling, better known as the Gonski review. A benchmark funding rate will be established that will provide for the costs associated with providing high-quality education. In addition, loadings for disadvantage will be added to cover the educational costs associated with that. With the stated aim of ensuring that Australia is in the top five international performers in reading, mathematics and science by 2025, this bill provides the legislative framework that opens the door.

The National Plan for School Improvement is the basis for lifting both school and student results by addressing five core reform directions: quality teaching; quality learning; empowering school leadership; transparency and accountability; and meeting student need. In addition, the loadings for educational disadvantage will provide extra funding for those students in need of extra support, covering areas such as: students with a disability; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students; students with low English proficiency due to immigration circumstances or ethnic background; students of low-socioeconomic status; rural, regional and remote schools; and small schools that have higher costs due to a lower number of students. This extra funding will be provided as grants to the states and territories to assist schools regardless of the sector—that is, government, Catholic and independent schools across the board. As tied funding, it is dependent upon the individual states and territories agreeing to the National Plan for School Improvement. Upon agreement, each state and territory will continue to run its own education system and the Commonwealth will provide increased funding over what is currently available.

As chair of the Standing Committee on Education and Employment I presented the advisory report on this bill to the House on 29 May. This report was written after the committee had held public hearings in Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne to hear from witnesses. In addition, the committee received 53 submissions from interested parties—although I must say that, somewhat disappointingly, few were received from state or territory governments. The committee's report recommended that this bill be passed whilst noting that the amendments that have been foreshadowed will introduce a funding formula and a variation to clause 10 of the bill to provide legal enforceability.

It is fair to say that the current model of school funding in Australia is a mess. It is a system that is broken, that does not direct funds to where they are most needed and that does not take enough account of those that it was put in place for—that is, the students. Around $12.9 billion of Commonwealth funding was directed to schools in 2012-13; 64.6 per cent of this was for non-government schools, whilst the states and territories provided most of the funding to their respective government school systems. Although constitutionally the states and territories have the responsibility for school education, the Commonwealth has been providing funding to state schools since 1964 in various forms. This funding initially started as capital grants for science laboratories and equipment but were extended five years later to cover the building of library facilities and then a bit later on to cover general capital works. Commonwealth recurrent funding of non-government schools first occurred in 1970 under the States Grants (Independent Schools) Act 1969. This funding was extended by the Whitlam Labor government as a result of the recommendations of the committee chaired by Professor Peter Karmel. Therefore, since 1974 both government and non-government schools have received a percentage of their recurrent funding from the Commonwealth.

Currently schools receive funding under the National Schools Specific Purpose Payment, national partnerships and Commonwealth own-purpose expenses. These rates vary greatly between the sectors and I think it would be more than fair to say that almost all users of the education system would struggle to identify both the source and the actual amount of funds that are made available to schools. Currently, the Commonwealth provides 10 per cent of the average government school recurrent costs, or AGSRC, for government schools in the states and territories through the NSSPP. This rate was increased by the Labor government as from 2009 from 8.9 per cent to 10 per cent for government primary school students. To my great dismay, my state, Victoria, did not flow this funding directly through to schools. In dollar terms this funding was worth around $100 per student per year, and many of my local schools were counting on this funding as a way of employing extra specialist staff for a few hours per week—staff that were needed to overcome educational disadvantage within their schools.

There are many national partnership programs that provide additional funding for government and non-government schools with different objectives and time frames of operation. National partnership funding is not recurrent funding; it is provided to achieve specific objectives agreed between the Commonwealth and the states and territories. Many of these national partnerships will expire in the near future, having provided the funding to achieve their agreed outcomes. These national partnerships include the Digital Education Revolution program, which has provided hundreds of thousands of computers to secondary schools and which expires on 30 June this year. They also include the National Partnership Agreement on Improving Teacher Quality, which expires at the end of this year; the National Partnership Agreement on Literacy and Numeracy, which expires at the end of this year; the National Partnership Agreement on Youth Attainment and Transitions, which expires at the end of this year; the National Partnership Agreement on Empowering Local Schools, which expires on 30 June 2014; the National Partnership Agreement for More Support for Students with Disabilities, which also expires on 30 June 2014; and the National Partnership Agreement on Low Socio-Economic Status School Communities, which expires on 30 June 2015. Some national partnership agreements extend beyond these dates, such as the National Partnership Agreement on Rewards for Great Teachers, the Trade Training Centres in Schools Program, and the national partnership agreement on reward for school improvement.

The non-government schools receive their national schools specific purpose payments through the Schools Assistance Act 2008. That provides for both recurrent and capital funding. This also includes targeted programs such as a literacy, numeracy and special needs program, the English as a second language new arrivals program and the country areas program. In addition, there is funding provided for Indigenous students through another program called the Indigenous supplementary assistance. There are also loadings for non-government schools in remote areas that range from five per cent to 20 per cent of the school's SES funding rate for general recurrent grants.

Currently there are 46 different funding rates under the SES system for recurrent grants to non-government schools. Introduced by the Howard Liberal government in 2001, this system calculates general recurrent funding for students, on the basis of the SES index that includes the three components: income, education and occupation and also the student's residential address within a census collection district. SES funding for non-government schools can vary from as low as 13.7 per cent up to 70 per cent using these measures. However, special schools and special assistance schools receive the maximum rate as do the majority of Indigenous student schools. Additionally some schools receive different SES funding rates due to the introduction of that system in 2001. These schools receive more than the calculated rate through mechanisms called funding maintained or funding guaranteed. At the start of 2012 there were 1,642 non-government schools funded according to their SES score, 1,075 funding maintained schools and five schools funding guaranteed.

This is a short version of the funding examples that I have just listed and to me it is one of the greatest reasons why we need to change our system of funding school education in Australia. The National Plan for School Improvement has many components but I believe that the transparency and accountability components are just as valuable, if not more valuable, than providing extra funding for the states and territories to distribute among their education systems.

It is even harder to explain or account for a particular dollar of funding than it is to describe the various funding programs that make up our school education funding system in Australia today. If I was to look at that from the ground level, the school gate level, and then what I have just been through in this speech, I would honestly have no chance of convincing a school parent as to what all these acronyms mean, where all these programs take things and how they benefit their particular son or daughter at a school. I really hope that with this bill we manage to simplify some of this jargon that has built up over the many, many years that in some cases have isolated our education system from the users of it because, to me, the most important thing about our education system is that our students get a great education but at the same time the parents and the taxpayers—if that is the right description, and I think it is—know what we are doing with the dollars that we put into education. Just going through the list that I have, and that is only a short list, it is not much of a surprise that most people think they know what happens in the education sphere when it comes to funding but in reality they do not know those sorts of details.

The National Plan for School Improvement introduces the schooling resource standard. This provides a base amount of $9,271 per primary school student and and $12,193 per secondary school student. In addition to these amounts, schools can receive more funding through the various loadings that are introduced with the National Plan for School Improvement. These loadings are: the low SES loading that ranges from $695 up to $4,635 for a primary school student and from $914 up to $6,096 for a secondary school student; an Indigenous loading that ranges from $$1,854 up to $11,125 for a primary school student and from $2,439 up to $14,631 for a secondary school student. There is also a loading for students with limited English skills set at 10 per cent and a location loading for regional and remote schools ranging from 10 per cent up to 80 per cent, dependent upon where the school is situated. There is a size loading for smaller schools that ranges from $150,000 for a primary school with up to 200 students to $240,000 for a secondary school with up to 500 students. There will be a loading for students with disability that will be phased in from 2015, once the required data has been collected.

All of this funding will be indexed every year, but the most important point to make is that none of the above will apply to states or territories that do not sign on to the National Plan for School Improvement. My own state of Victoria, which has yet to sign up, stands to lose $4.2 billion of school funding over the next six years if the current school funding system remains in place. That is around $3 billion less for government schools or an average of $1.9 million per school. It is also $1.2 billion less for non-government schools or an average of $1.7 million per school. These figures are large but they mean so much to individual schools.

There are many individual schools in my electorate—and of course in the electorates of other members as well—that are really great schools that need more on the inside. This government has done some fantastic things on the outside of schools with infrastructure and has had some great national partnerships run, but the recurrent funding of schools is the issue that comes back time and time again. It is now over 5½ years since I started in this job and it has been an issue that I think I have spoken about on every occasion that I have visited my local schools. It is always, 'How are we going to fund the extra teachers we need and provide the services that we need to make sure that the children that come to our school'—whether it be government or non-government—'get the best education possible?'

I do not think there is a huge amount of disagreement with that statement. I think the disagreement comes from how we achieve that. What we have now with the National Plan for School Improvement is a plan that is laid out based upon the Gonski report that provides that pathway to the future. I note that New South Wales and the ACT have both signed up to that. I congratulate both states for being far-sighted and doing that. I certainly hope my home state of Victoria also follows that same path. The Australian Education Bill establishes the National Plan for School Improvement that will fund all schools through a fairer system based on the needs of individual students whilst providing extra assistance where it is most needed. It is warmly welcomed, and I commend this bill to the House.