Successful campaigning for funding reform has now put funding to NSW public schools on an upward trajectory, allowing them to increasingly meet the full learning needs of their students.
The needs-based NSW Gonski funding agreement has also set up an expectation for a higher baseline for recurrent funding in the future.
There is a long history of successive ALP and Coalition state and federal governments abandoning their responsibility to provide a high quality education for all school students but this has started to turn around.
Many will recall the dark day for the NSW public education system, in September 2012, when then premier Barry O’Farrell announced $1 billion worth of cuts to public schools and $700 million from TAFE. It meant the cutting of positions and the collapse of learning programs. Thousands signed up to the Putting Students First campaign opposing the cuts. Rallies were held across the state.
To date, the cuts and subsequent privatisation agenda of the NSW government has been a particular disaster for TAFE as more and more jobs and courses have been, and continue to be, cut and colleges put at risk of closure.
For public schools events took a different turn only months after that fateful day in 2012. The Putting Students First and Gonski campaigns led to the signing of the NSW Gonski Agreement in April 2013 and therefore put the skids on the state government’s $1 billion cuts to public schools. It is important to remind ourselves that these campaigns achieved support for this historic agreement between a federal Labor and state Coalition government.
The federal Coalition’s schools funding policies, though, have been dominated by backflip upon backflip. When in opposition, the Coalition’s education spokesperson Christopher Pyne rejected the entire Gonski report and recommendations within minutes of its release in 2012 and maintained the Coalition’s support for the discredited Socio-Economic Status (SES) funding model introduced by the Howard government in 2001.
The federal Coalition was, however, unable to maintain this position in the face of growing community support for the Gonski campaign in the
lead-up to the 2013 federal election. Coalition leader Tony Abbott subsequently announced a revised position, claiming to be on a “unity ticket” with then prime minister Kevin Rudd on schools funding.
Although the Coalition did not commit to fully funding years 5 and 6 of the NSW Gonski Agreement, the pressure of the Gonski campaign forced the Coalition to at least commit funding for the first four years and apply an indexation for the following two years, well beyond what the Coalition had originally intended.
While the campaign must intensify to secure funding for the fifth and sixth years from the Abbott Government to enable all schools to reach the School Resourcing Standard, public school supporters should take heart that their efforts are increasingly translating to greater educational opportunities for so many students across NSW.