NSW unites for Gonski agreement

Gonski unity: (L-R) Susie Boyd (P&C), Labor MP Jihad Dib, Phil Seymour (Primary Principals' Association), Greens MP Tamara Smith, Cheryl McBride (Public Schools Principals Forum), Minister Rob Stokes, Chris Presland (Secondary Principals' Council) and Federation President Maurie Mulheron

In recent weeks, NSW has seen unprecedented political unity behind the full Gonski funding model, as defined in the National Education Reform Agreement (NERA — the Gonski agreement), as the needs-based funding model comes under threat from Malcolm Turnbull’s new schools funding plan.

On 31 May, at a media conference behind NSW Parliament House, an uncommon alliance of representatives from the Coalition government, the Labor Party and the Greens joined with the Public Education Alliance.

NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes acknowledged the successes achieved in schools through the first four years of Gonski funding and spoke of the government’s commitment to funding the full Gonski model.

He called on the Turnbull government to honour the deal that had been signed, saying: “We’ve got a legitimate expectation to receive, for the schools in NSW, the money that parents, that teachers, that students were promised.”

“Over the last four years, we have seen outstanding results in schools as a result of this additional needs-based funding,” said Labor shadow minister for education, Jihad Dib. “(It) gives every single student the opportunity to have the best education possible, regardless of where they live, regardless of their financial circumstances and regardless of the different or lack of opportunities that they have.”

NSW Greens spokesperson for education, Tamara Smith, delivered her state party’s commitment to the full Gonski model and recognised the particular importance of Gonski needs-based funding in schools. “As an ex-school teacher who has worked in remote and rural NSW and Australia, I have seen first-hand the benefits of needs-based funding to support those students who are most in need,” Ms Smith said.

Top: Federation General Secretary John Dixon delivers 11,020 signed postcards to Mr Stokes; Bottom: Boxes of the postcards for Premier Gladys Berejiklian

At the media conference, the Public Education Alliance was represented by Maurie Mulheron, President of the Teachers Federation; Phil Seymour, President of the NSW Primary Principals' Association; Chris Presland, President of the NSW Secondary Principals' Council; Cheryl McBride, Chair of the Public School Principals Forum; and Susie Boyd, President of the Federation of Parents & Citizens Associations.

Teachers and community members show their support

As part of the campaign, teachers, parents and community members were asked to sign postcards addressed to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, asking her to stay strong in her commitment to supporting the full Gonski package. In only a few short weeks, 11,020 signed postcards were returned from across the state.

On 8 June, prior to the Council of Australian Governments meeting, the signed cards were delivered to NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes. General Secretary John Dixon urged the Minister and Premier to stay strong and “negotiate hard over the next few days” on behalf of schools funding.

Minister Stokes thanked Federation for their ongoing efforts in support of teachers, parents and students of NSW and reiterated his support for the strong, needs-based, sector-blind funding model defined in NERA as signed between the NSW and Commonwealth governments.

“It represents billions more for schools in NSW and it’s a deal that we are not going to walk away from. We are going to hold the federal government to account,” Minister Stokes said. “We signed this deal in good faith and we expect it to be honoured.”

Billboard tour brings out Gonski supporters

Off the back of the successful Gonski bus tour in March, a Gonski mobile billboard has been touring through more of NSW, visiting electorates around Sydney, and into rural NSW. Schools held events to show their support for Gonski needs-based funding and hear from local leaders and Federation officials about the ongoing campaign.

Campaign continues

It is a volatile time for the issue of schools funding. Legislation to significantly cut back funding from the original Gonski model has already passed through the House of Representatives. The Senate Select Committee into School Funding has delivered its findings (see report here) and the legislation could be put to the Senate any day. It is entirely possible that by Federation’s Annual Conference in July, decisions about future campaign actions will be in the light of Mr Turnbull’s cuts having either been passed or rejected by the Senate.

However, as Deputy President Gary Zadkovich told a recent meeting of Federation’s Executive, if the Senate votes in favour of Mr Turnbull’s cuts, we will campaign until the next federal election to reverse them but if the Senate votes in favour of keeping the current funding model, we’ll campaign until the election to make sure it is secure.