Cuts behind Budget spin

Cuts and underspending on last year’s State Budget outweigh Gonski spending commitments

Sue Simpson
Research Officer

The Federation has written to the Education Department Director-General seeking an explanation for cuts in public education funding found in the 2013/14 State Budget.

State budget media releases are carefully worded and figures carefully selected to present the unblemished story the government wants you to believe. It’s all about “improving education and learning outcomes for all students”, “enhanced specialist services”, “new schools and upgrades”, “additional” funding in the form of “an increase of $524 million on last year’s expenditure” and “Gonski cash”.

Close analysis of the Budget Papers reveals public education funding cuts, funding neither keeping up with enrolment increases nor with inflation. The NSW Government’s contribution to the additional Gonski funding over the next two years has already been paid for out of cuts to public school funding over the last financial year.

The NSW Government underspent by $176 million the money set aside in the 2012 Budget for public primary education and by $86 million for public secondary schools. This means public primary education expenditure will increase by a mere one per cent this financial year with public secondary school expenditure being cut by 0.4 per cent. There will be 450 fewer employees in government primary and secondary schools despite enrolment increases of 7000 students in public primary schools and 1000 students in public high schools. That’s assuming this year’s Budget will not be underspent as was last year’s.

By comparing last year’s underspent Budget with this year’s Budget allocation, the Government celebrates however a 3.4 per cent funding increase for public primary education and a 1.8 per cent increase, rather than a cut, for public secondary education.

The Premier and the Treasurer spin the line that they have hired 500 teachers. There is no evidence that 500 new permanent positions, unrelated to enrolment increases, have been created. Nor is there any mention of progress on delivery of the 900 teachers that the Coalition’s election policy called for under its Literacy and Numeracy Action Plan.

Federation is deeply concerned that the full extent of the cutbacks will be obscured as the Department of Education rolls out its resource allocation model (RAM). RAM is being rolled out at a time of continuing state cuts to public education. The bulk of the Gonski funding, about 71 per cent, will only roll into schools after four years of operation.

Capital works funding continues to be grossly inadequate. Given overcrowding in some schools, enrolment increases and ageing school building and technology infrastructure, capital expenditure on government primary education will increase by only 0.17 per cent on last year’s Budget allocation — or 3.4 per cent on the revised underspent Budget. Capital expenditure for government secondary education is 20 per cent less than revised expenditure for 2012/13 and still 15 per cent less than what was allocated in the last year’s Budget.

NSW government school funding has gone backwards in real terms at precisely the time that the Department is introducing the new RAM.

The Budget Papers admit that the money acquired through cuts to services, increased user pays in TAFE, and the deferral of tax reform raises more funds than NSW’s funding commitment to Gonski. In other words the savings identified are greater than what is needed to fund Gonski. The Treasurer made much of the Government’s funding commitment of $1.761 billion over the next six financial years to the Gonski reforms. The NSW Government’s contribution to the Gonski reforms in public and private schools over the first two financial years is only $256 million.

Just last year the Government underspent $262.5 million in primary and secondary school recurrent funding based on the difference between what it budgeted for and what it actually spent. It has already made the savings with some $6.5 million to put forward to the latter years.

TAFE cuts continue

Budget cuts and job losses will continue. The TAFE NSW recurrent budget is expected to be 0.6 per cent less with an estimated 330 fewer employees. However, vocational education and training (VET) expenditure is expected to increase by 65.8 per cent. In a contestable market it is difficult to know how much of the VET funding will go to TAFE and how much to private providers. TAFE fees are to be increased with the introduction of Smart and Skilled under the justification that the money is needed to fund the school Gonski reforms.

TAFE capital funding is increasing. Federation is seeking clarification on how much of the 16 per cent increase is funded by the Commonwealth Investment Fund.