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Understanding the Gonski school cash spat

AAP logoAAP 22/09/2016 Katina Curtis

WHAT'S HAPPENING WITH SCHOOL FUNDING NOW?

The coalition government says the funding deal in place now runs out at the end of 2017 - four years from when it started in 2014 (despite the previous Labor government trying to make that deal be for six years). Education ministers meet on Friday to start nutting out the new arrangements to start from 2018. It's likely to be another four-year deal.

WHAT WILL BE IN THAT DEAL?

Federal education minister Simon Birmingham wants funding to be distributed according to need, take into account traditional responsibilities of states and the Commonwealth, and to be tied to evidence-based school improvement initiatives, such as testing for Year 1 students and minimum literacy and numeracy requirements for Year 12s. But there won't be billions more on the table and funding growth is likely to be relatively modest.

WHAT'S WRONG WITH SCHOOL FUNDING NOW?

Birmingham argues the deals in place divvy up federal funding inequitably between states. For instance, imagine a city school with 700 students, mostly from disadvantaged backgrounds and including some indigenous and some with disabilities. In NSW that schools gets commonwealth money worth 17. 6 per cent of the national per-student standard but the same school in WA only gets funding worth 13 per cent of the standard.

He's also released figures showing that while the Commonwealth poured more money into schools in the five years to 2013-14, state contributions didn't grow as fast. Plus Victoria, Queensland, WA and the Northern Territory actually cut their school budgets over that time.

SO IS THE FUNDING A CORRUPTION OF THE GONSKI MODEL?

Probably. But the blame for that should be placed collectively - starting with Julia Gillard's insistence that no school lose a dollar and going through to Christopher Pyne's moves to dump the "Canberra command and control" elements of Labor's plan - that is, the accountability measures tying funding to improved student outcomes and ensuring states didn't cut their budgets. The fact negotiations ran into the 2013 federal election also didn't help.

Birmingham wants a single, national model, arguing the 27 different deals in place at the moment are a "corruption" of the Gonski model. He's right, but is also ignoring that some of those deals were put in place after the coalition won government.

Meanwhile, Labor and the teachers union insist only the "full Gonski" - with an extra $4 billion or so going to schools in 2018 and 2019 - is good enough.

WILL A NEW DEAL REALLY END THE FUNDING SQUABBLE?

Maybe, but probably not. For a start, Birmingham is arming his public arguments only with facts about the extent of commonwealth funding - so parents aren't necessarily seeing the entire picture of what money their schools is getting. Plus the states always want the richer commonwealth government to put in more cash. The original Gonski report proposed a way to stop this kind of fact-twisting - setting up a national school funding body to transparently dole out money contributed by states and federal governments - but the idea was so politically unpalatable it's been barely mentioned since the report's release in early 2012.

WHEN WILL A NEW DEAL BE IN PLACE?

The Council of Australian Governments has promised leaders will sign a new agreement at their first meeting in 2017 - likely in March or April. All arrangements will need to be finalised before the start of the 2018 school year.

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