Gonski 2.0 – has Labor lost its soul?

We have been told over and over by respected journalists that Labor is only opposing the Coalition’s Gonski 2.0 schools funding scheme for base political reasons. Laura Tingle, Phillip Coorey, Bernard Keane and others said it. Andrew Probyn on the 7.30 Report last week, crossed the line from reporter to judgemental pontificator last week, basically saying that Labor was a disgrace. Back in May, when Gonski 2.0 was announced, Paula Mathewson declared that Labor had “lost it’s soul to Abbott-style negativity”. Tingle and Coorey accused Labor of voting against its own policies.

Excuse me, that was never the case. Labor had worked hard against rabid opposition to sign up the 27 entities involved in funding schools in Australia. The deal was to roll out the funds over six years, albeit backloaded in the last two, just beyond the budget estimates. Now Turnbull comes up with a cheaper deal, snatching away the final realisation of needs-based funding schools have been preparing for over the last four years, extending it out over another 10 years. Labor had signed agreements delivering the funding to the relevant school funding entities. Were they expected to rat on the deals they had entered in good faith?

Seems none of these media people had actually asked Tanya Plibersek to explain why Labor opposed the deal, with Plibersek initially calling it “an act of political bastardry”. Eventually Plibersek appeared twice on the ABC on Wednesday this week, first with Patricia Karvelas on RN Drive, and again with Leigh Sales on the 7.30 Report.

Phillip Coorey had just written that Labor and The Greens were putting kids last. It is clear, I think, that in both interviews the purpose was to shame Labor and to reveal just how disgraceful their position was. They got more than they bargained for.

Plibersek argued that ‘more funding’ would actually mean less in some surprising ways. Plibersek said it was pleasing that the Coalition had admitted that there was such a thing as needs-based funding.

Remember, Christopher Pyne had always said that the issue was teacher quality, not funding, and that the LNP would change the funding in some undefined way they hadn’t yet worked out. The bipartisonship prior to the 2013 election was a commitment limited to four years of funding matching Labor’s legislated plans for four years, nothing more.

Here are some excerpts of what she said on 7.30:

    “this proposal isn’t needs-based funding. It’s not sector-blind and it’s not fair.”

    “It’s a decision from the Federal Government to pay 20 per cent of the cost of educating a child in a government school, and 80 per cent of the cost of educating a child in a private school.

    That means in effect that Northern Territory public school students will actually get the worst deal in the country and will go backwards in real terms.

    It means Tasmanian public school students will get the second worst deal in the country and go backwards.”

    “It means in effect that just taking NSW and Victoria over the next two years alone, $1.5 billion will be cut from public schools alone. Yes, it’s no wonder that parents, that teachers, that anybody who cares about public education would be outraged by that.

    There’s also cuts to small parish Catholic schools across the country. It’s no wonder that parents and teachers in that sector are outraged by what’s being proposed by this Government.

    When you manage to unite the 70 per cent of schools that are in the public system, the 20 per cent of schools that are in the Catholic system against you, and have the remaining 10 per cent in the independent sector considering removing their support for the package, that’s a pretty remarkable feat from this Government.”

    “if you don’t even keep up with inflation, as is the case in Northern Territory public schools, that is a real cuts in the schools ability to purchase the services it needs.”

    “It reduces the funding to 24 elite schools and then a whole lot of other elite private schools will actually get huge funding increases. The King’s School will get $19 million extra over the decade compared with what they would have got under us. Geelong grammar, $16 million extra. Friends’ School in Hobart, $19 million extra. Churchie in Brisbane $16 million extra, $17 million extra.

    I mean, it reduces the funding to some elite schools and then increases the funding to others elite schools.”

Plibersek denied that government schools would get less if Gonski 2.0 did not go ahead and funding reverted to the 2013 Act, as claimed by the Grattan Institute:

    “The Grattan Institute is ignoring the signed agreements with the states. When you take into account the existing act as well and the signed agreements with the states, NSW will be about $846 million worse off over the next two years alone. Victoria will be $630 million, this is from their public schools alone, $630 million worse off over the next two years. Queensland be will be about $750 million worse off over the next two years alone, because of this Government’s refusal to honour Labor’s arrangements.”

Plibersek said their objections are not just about the level of funding and funding methodology:

    “they have completely removed the reform agenda from the Australian Education Act.

    So we have objectives in the Australian Education Act that go to transparency, accountability, principal autonomy, making sure that we close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, having higher aspirations for more children to complete year 12, doing better compared with countries around the world.

    All of those objectives in the Australian Education Act removed by this Government. So I’m not surprised that they are trying to distract attention from the fact that this is a cut, that it reverses reforms that are already legislated, that public school parents and teachers hate it, that Catholic school parents and teachers hate it. And that organisations that have campaigned for school funding reforms say this is inadequate.”

The Karvelas interview goes into more detail about what has been lost educationally in the new proposals, and is also better, far better, on funding. Seems the problem lies in the government’s obsession that it will not fund more than 20% of the cost of public schools, and will always fund 80% of private. This introduces distortions which will see 150 Northern Territory schools ‘over-funded’ because 23% of their funding came from the Commonwealth. In fact they are currently below the SRES level, and will receive more dollars in funding, but below the inflation indexation rate. The NT government has a limited revenue base, so unless something special is done they will never catch. But special deals are verboten under Gonski 2.0.

Not sue I’ve got that right. Colour me confused. But if Plibersek is right Jacqui Lambie has voted against the interests of Tasmanian kids.

However, at least I know what I don’t know. Coorey, Tingle, Keane and others apparently don’t know what they don’t know, or think they know what apparently they don’t. But of course everyone is an expert on education. We’ve all been to school.

The bottom line is that Gonski 2.0 got through the senate, rescued in the end by Xenophon rather than The Greens, but piggy-backing perhaps on concessions the Greens had formulated but couldn’t all agree upon. An extra $5 billion or so was tipped in, the end date for full funding brought forward to six years rather than 10, and transition money mollified the Catholics and Independents.

However, the schooling issue has not been neutralised as an election issue, which was in large part Turnbull’s aim, it will definitely be up there in bold.

Yesterday on local radio Emma Griffiths talked to Qld education minister Kate Jones. It was about Pauline Hanson’s ham-fisted contribution saying that autistic children and special needs kids should be taken out of the mainstream classroom.

Jones said that education minister Simon Birmingham had not spoken to her about school funding. Not at all. She listened to the ABC for information like everyone else. However, she was expecting a significant haircut.

Simon Birmingham obviously thinks he is responsible for Australian school education, but that does not mean working in genuine partnership with the states.

On the Pauline Hanson thing, it was ham-fisted, but was based on a genuine issue. Schools are not coping well with ‘mainstreaming’ of special needs kids, which has been the policy for at least 30 years.

It appears that there is more funding for special needs kids under Gonski 2.0. However, the definition has been extended and the funds will be spread more thinly. Plus the increase is at the expense of the rest of the system.

One of the saving graces is that Gonski himself will head up a new review to examine what makes a difference in schools. It will also look at the special needs formula. The chief problem here is that it measures need by the socio-economic average of the ABS statistical area from which the students are drawn. This becomes distorted when a school’s students come mainly from enclaves of rich kids in a poor area, or enclaves of poor kids in a rich area. Catholic schools are subject to these distortions, which they say they correct in funding decisions. They now hope Gonski will sort it out.

Finally, from me, the factors that make the most difference in school performance are local school leadership, the quality and style of teaching, and the socioeconomic background of the students.

Beyond that, the curriculum, measurement and accountability measures are placing severe pressure on teachers, and constraining the way teachers and children interact in the classroom setting. Not sure Gonski or Labor understand that. The LNP certainly doesn’t.

11 thoughts on “Gonski 2.0 – has Labor lost its soul?”

  1. On page 32 of the Courier Mail today there is a story that Kate Jones says she’ll have to find a billion extra dollars over the next four years for Queensland government schools because of Gonski 2.0.

    Simon Birmingham says that if she’s got a problem they should get together to talk about it. Don’t tell me he’s going to do 27 separate deals!

  2. That’s the problem with politics nowadays, you capitulate even by 80% both sides hate your guts.
    Appeasing folk that will never vote for you is political suicide.
    All the while results get worse and worse.

    And why is Plibers banging on about the Federal jurisdiction of NT ? It’s not a State and all education funding is Federal. NT schools also get massive amounts grants that she’s not counting.
    Yep, totally political.

  3. Mr J
    I think Brian was referring to a Qld Minister. How she votes is irrelevant.
    Her job is to plan for and fund hundreds of schools serving many thousands of children and families.

    How THEY vote should also be irrelevant.

    A politician might try to appease the Reichsfuehrer. The Minister has to serve the public interest.

    “Appeasement” doesn’t come into it.

  4. Jumpy, I couldn’t understand the first part of your comment.

    On the NT, it’s irrelevant to this issue that much of the general revenue in the NT comes from the Commonwealth.

  5. My starting position was that it was fair enough for Labor not to renege on the Gonski deals it made, and that gave the Greens leverage to sort out a suitable compromise. Sarah Hanson-Young and Richard di Natale seemed to have a good grasp on what needed to be done. Labor could always promise to accelerate the funding rather than give company tax concessions if it chose. Meanwhile the overfunding that happened when Gillard decided that no school should get less would be sorted out.

    I’ve been surprised by the tales of woe Plibersek has been coming up with. I don’t think she would be putting around stuff that doesn’t bear scrutiny.

    In trying to understand what’s going on, we should be aware first of all that state governments all fund all private schools also, even the rich one I gather, and figures quoted are impossibly difficult to compare, because in many cases it’s not specified whether the amounts are annual, the next two years, the next four years, the next six or 10 years, all of which have had a run.

    I’ll post some links in comments below.

  6. Peter Goss and Julie Sonnemann from the Grattan Institute have done an article The passage of Gonski 2.0 is a victory for children over politics which Nick Xenophon quoted with approval on Friday.

    It shows that most schools are better off, but not the Catholics. Seems they were funded systemically as ‘average’ schools in terms of parents wealth. Now the actual wealth of the parents will be counted, and since Catholic school parents are on average wealthier than the community average, they will get less.

    Grattan say that the fair comparison is to compare Gonski 2.0 with provisions of the 2013 Act. Plibersek says that’s wrong, the comparison should be with the provisions of the agreements they signed.

    Thing is, in 2013 when Labor held the treasury benches they only legislated four years of funding. Turnbull says that beyond 2017 Labor was just hot air, they would never have paid for what they’d signed up for.

    I’m sure Labor’s response would be that if you don’t give away tax cuts to companies you can pay for quite a bit.

  7. How is the ‘ capacity to pay ‘ system formulated ?
    I can assure everyone when my Wife and I were struggling and sacrificing to put 3 Kids through Catholic School there were Parents on far higher incomes with their Kids in the State system.

    Shouldn’t we income test all Parents and charge a fee to those with ‘ capacity to pay ‘?

  8. Jumpy, ‘capacity to pay’ is effectively the way the whole Gonski funding works. It’s not assessed on individual parent’s circumstances. It’s calculated for each school on the sum of each parent’s income related to the average in the ABS region where they live. If incomes are lower than average they are deemed to need more.

    To date every Catholic family was deemed to be average, whereas in fact the ones sending their kids to Catholic schools earn more. The difference meant $3.1 billion more over ten years than if their entitlements were calculated the same way as for everyone else.

    There are difficulties over this. It doesn’t take into account the cost of housing in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, for example.

  9. Funding by suburb average income seems very crude. Everyone has observed wide variations of both income and wealth within a suburb.

    Not surprising that families at the higher end of a postcode average income are more likely to pay school fees, whether parish or “elite”.

    Disposable income would be relevant, I’d expect.

    Some schools have large endowments and high $ annual fundraising.

    To be fair, let’s try to include all financial factors.

  10. “To date every Protestant family sending their daughter to a high fee school was deemed to be avarage.”

    Easy way out?

    Has Labor lost its soul? Not sure, but the Greens could do well to lose their Senate SPA lady. IMHO.

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