$1.2 billion more for schools

Last week the Coalition Government described the so-called ‘Gonski’ system of school funding as “unimplementable” and “a shambles”. Today it has announced that $1.2 billion in new funding has been found for the education portfolio, and that the Labor original schools funding plan will be restored, with a few changes.

The four year national funding model is back in place. However, the ‘changes’ announced include removing the requirement of matched funding from state governments. Where the original Gonski model included state governments matching national funding dollar-for-dollar, the new $1.2 billion will not require the three recipients to make any new financial commitments.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said of the changes, “We don’t want to try to run public schools out of Canberra, and that was the problem with the original deal that the former government did… I suspect that New South Wales and Victoria will be happy to lose the Canberra command and control elements of those deals.”

Not all states will be exempt from providing extra funding. The $1.2 billion is only being offered to the states and territory which had not previously signed up to the Gonski reforms, and are therefore part of the ‘new’ agreement. The new funding will allow Queensland, Western Australian and the Northern Territory to participate in the schools funding scheme without a co-funding commitment from their state governments.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne is taking much of the credit for the new funding model. He explained to the ABC’s 7:30 program, “I’ve just spent the last 11 weeks trying to sort through the mess that Bill Shorten left me as the Education Minister.”

“What I’ve managed to achieve is to get every state and territory in a national model, which Bill Shorten never achieved, and [return] $1.2 billion extra in spending on students that Bill Shorten ripped out in the pre-election financial outlook.”

The $1.2 billion in Mr Pyne’s statement refers to funds which were not allocated due to the jurisdictions, QLD, WA and NT, all led by conservative governments, not signing up for the Gonski model.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten has asked the Abbott Government to guarantee that no school will be worse off under the Government’s plan than it would have been under Labor. “Can the Abbott Government keep its election promise that no school will be worse off? No Australian is any clearer as to whether or not the Abbott Government intends to fix up its election promise.”

Find out more at the ABC News website

Opinion: Where is the money coming from?

First we were getting a schools funding model co-funded by state and federal governments. Then we weren’t getting anything at all, and it was “back to the drawing-board” (Christopher Pyne last week). Now, not only are we getting schools funding, but the Federal Government has found $1.2 billion and is paying for the lot. It’s a political rollercoaster. And where was that $1.2 billion hiding before now? How does one just happen to ‘find’ that kind of money? The Federal Government has promised to reveal all, but not until next July.

Even with all the backflipping, I do applaud this change of heart from the Abbott Government. Changing your mind is difficult to do when you’re in power, with the nation’s eyes watching and judging your performance. But education is such an important issue to so many that I think Mr Abbott and Mr Pyne did the right thing by not letting personal pride get in the way of supporting a new education funding model.

But I do have to wonder at the way they went about it. Last week the big news was the Abbott Government requesting a massive increase to Australia’s debt ceiling because we simply don’t have enough available funds. This week it has actively chosen not to ask states to co-fund the new model. Instead the ostensibly strapped-for-cash Federal Government will be footing the bill. So where is it coming from? Which group is most likely to miss out on funding increases, or to have funds cut to make up this $1.2 billion?

There have already been noises made about changes to superannuation and lifting the pension age which could harm Australia’s over 50s population. Debbie explains these possible changes here. With no dedicated minister for ageing in the new Abbott Government, do Australia’s pensioners have a voice in the Federal Government to protect them from becoming the victims of funding cuts?

What do you think? Should education be our top priority? Is the Federal Government right to let state governments off the hook, or should some of that $1.2 billion be used to fund other groups, for example, an increase to the Age Pension?



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