This federal election will be a game changer for education, for the better or for the worse. The choice could not be clearer for teachers and their school communities.
Depending on the outcome, millions of Australian children will be provided with additional learning support and resources for years to come, or millions will be denied the opportunity to reach their potential.
As a nation, we can choose to create opportunities for children and reap the social and economic benefits or carry for decades the enormous burden that is caused by underinvestment in education.
In 2000-2013, according to Commonwealth data released by the NSW government, immediately prior to the introduction of the Gonski model in 2014, schools funding grew in real terms by less than 1 per cent.
The economy grew by 1.47 per cent. We became wealthier as a nation but this was not reflected in our commitment to schools. Worse, the increase was not targeted with most of it directed to the already advantaged.
Gonski funding is designed to change this inequality.
At the heart of Gonski funding is this: all schools must be brought up to a minimum schooling resource standard. Because of years of underinvestment it will take six transition years to pull all schools up to that resource standard.
Once there, funding is to be maintained into the future so that no school ever drops below the resource standard.
The level of funding each school receives will be determined solely on student need. It is a sector-blind, needs-aware model: the greater the need, the greater the investment.
But if the six transition years were a 100km journey that started just over two years ago, at this point in time we are only 18km along that road.
In other words, only 18 per cent of the funding needed to bring all schools to a minimum resource standard has been allocated to date.
The bulk of the Gonski transition money is still to come, mainly in the final two years — 2018 and 2019.
For months, we lobbied both major political parties to secure a commitment that they would fund this six-year model. We were seeking bipartisan support.
We presented the enormous body of evidence that shows the Gonski school funding model is improving student outcomes.
But the May Budget has revealed that this bipartisan support will not happen.
The Turnbull government will not fund a needs-based model, will not commit the money so that the resource standard is reached, has lowered the Commonwealth indexation rate, will not fund the students with disability loading, will not honour the NSW-Commonwealth agreement and will tie any Commonwealth funding to punitive anti-teacher policies such as “cash for grades” pay schemes.
In contrast, the federal Labor Party has announced it will fully fund, without strings attached, the full six-year model and a further four years beyond.
It is a fully-costed model which would mean that the NSW-Commonwealth agreement would be honoured.
The Greens also support the fully-funded model as do independents such as Tony Windsor.
What do schools stand to lose?
If we were to examine just one NSW electorate, Eden-Monaro, the difference between a fully-funded model that the ALP has committed to funding and what a Coalition government will provide over the final two years is $15 million. Over 10 years, the difference is $149 million. The difference is staggering.
These figures are similar across all federal electorates, meaning that the Turnbull government would leave a massive shortfall in schools funding of over $3 billion by the end of the 2019.
We are calling on all members to campaign for the Gonski model in their communities.
Teachers in their local schools are best placed to convince the community that increasing schools funding is an investment, not a cost, an investment that ultimately benefits everybody in society.
In this election so much is at stake, and the choice is now clear. Our job is to convince the parents and the community that they should vote for a fair funding deal for our children, this nation’s greatest resource.
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