The federal government's budget commitment to deliver needs-based funding to schools around the country has had a mixed reception since the federal budget arrived on May 9.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull touted the funding plan, which will see schools in the Inverell district receive funding increases over the next decade, as one to "bring the school funding wars to an end". But the move has been slammed by the Catholic sector and was met with predictions of failure by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott before the budget arrived.
The plan, dubbed “Gonski 2.0.”, would see the federal government invest $18.6 billion in schools funding over the next 10 years.
A school funding estimator has slated schools in Inverell to receive millions of dollars in needs-based funding, but Member for Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall said the new plan represents a fraction of the benefits anticipated under the original Gonski funding agreement that the state signed on for in 2013.
"Look, it's not Gonski 2.0. It's diet Gonski," Mr Marshall said.
"It is very positive that the federal government (has) finally acknowledged that needs-based funding is by far and away the most fair and the most equitable way of funding our schools right across the country.
"What I think is disappointing, though, is that they are not willing to honour the agreement that NSW signed about five years ago with the Commonwealth."
"We will still see the benefits of Gonski in this region, but we will not be able to realise the full benefit unless the federal government honours that original agreement."
Mr Marshall said the needs-based funding model was particularly important for schools in rural and remote areas - a key area of educational disadvantage found in the 2011 Gonski Review.
"Country schools benefit the most from a needs-based scheme because the old antiquated scheme saw the vast majority of the money going to metropolitan schools," Mr Marshall said.
"Regarding educational student learning outcomes, there has always been a huge gap between country students and city students."
At the height of the 2017/18 budget release, the federal government released an online school funding estimator that indicated how much each school would receive over the next 10 years.
The estimator was trashed by the Catholic sector as inaccurate, but Mr Marshall said the significantly greater estimates for Catholic schools funding over public schools was only one side of the coin.
"I can't comment on the accuracy or veracity of the estimator the feds have put on the website, but it is not (surprising) that the independent and the Catholic schools ... would get the vast majority of funding from the Commonwealth," he said.
"Traditionally, that is what they have mainly funded, where the state governments carry the can for the public sector, and very little in the Catholic sector and none in the non-government, the private sector."
"If you look at just federal money, that is why you would see them giving a lot more money to the Catholic sector versus the private sector because the state funds would be exactly the opposite - different sides of the same coin."
Mr Marshall said there was no doubt schools funding would continue to increase "but it's just that it won't be as much money as was committed to in the agreement signed by the Commonwealth and NSW."
What is Gonski all about?
In 2013, NSW became the first state to sign on for needs-based schools funding after the 2011 Gonski review showed Australia had a significant gap between its highest and lowest performing students, and that a concerning number of lower performing students were not meeting a minimum achievement standard.
The agreement would have seen the Commonwealth contribute $3.27 billion to NSW schools funding, on top of the state's contribution of $1.76 billion, from 2014 to 2019.
The Gonski review drew links between low achievement in schools and educational disadvantage "particularly among students from low socioeconomic and Indigenous backgrounds".
It found the majority of students facing educational disadvantage in five key areas – namely students from Indigenous background, students with disability, remote and rural schools, schools in the bottom quarter of socio-educational advantage and students with language backgrounds other than English – were enrolled in government schools.
"The per student amount plus loadings would represent the total resources required by a school to provide its students with the opportunity to achieve high educational outcomes for their students over a sustained period of time. It would be funded from public funding from all levels of government, as well as any private sources."
The Gonski Review recommended that schools funding at both federal and state level should be redesigned to meet a "school resource standard" that also considered a "needs-based" loading for schools facing educational disadvantage.
The report found the schooling resource standard would:
- form the basis for general recurrent funding for all students in all schooling sectors
- consist of separate per student amounts for primary school students and secondary school students
- provide loadings for the additional costs of meeting certain educational needs. These loadings would take into account socioeconomic background, disability, English language proficiency, the particular needs of Indigenous students, school size, and school location
- be based on actual resources used by schools already achieving high educational outcomes for their students over a sustained period of time
- recognise that schools with similar student populations require the same level of resources regardless of whether they are located in the government, Catholic or independent school sectors
- be periodically reviewed every four years so that it continues to reflect community aspirations and, in between reviews, be indexed using a simple measure that is based on the actual increase in costs in schools already achieving the relevant high educational outcomes over a sustained period of time.
The Gonski report made 41 recommendations toward a needs-based funding model for the nation’s schools.