The Greens will today move to replace the 20% ceiling on the Commonwealth share of public school funding with a 25% floor, in a direct challenge to the federal government to close the funding gap at the start of the next National School Reform Agreement (NSRA).
Signalling an intention to open up a new battleground with Labor on public education, Greens Senator Penny Allman-Payne will today introduce The Australian Education Amendment (Save Our Public Schools) Bill 2023, which would:
- abolish the so-called “20% cap” on the Commonwealth’s share of total public school funding;
- replace the cap with a 25% minimum contribution; and
- amend the act to require the Education Minister to ensure that “every school-aged child in Australia has access to a fully funded government school”.
Comments attributable to Greens spokesperson on schools, Senator Penny Allman-Payne:
“Australia’s public school system is on the brink. Teachers are abandoning the profession, results are falling, and millions of kids are being left behind.
“It’s no secret what’s happening: 98% of public schools in the country are underfunded. Every year our school kids are robbed of $6.6 billion. That means schools don’t have the money to pay for the bare minimum level of staffing and educational resources they need.
“Under existing funding arrangements the federal government is meeting its 20% commitment, but most states and territories are not paying their 80% share – and on current trajectories they never will.
“We have an absurd situation where the federal government, with vastly more revenue than the states and territories, is chiefly responsible for propping up the overfunded private sector.
“Meanwhile, the states and territories, which are far more fiscally constrained, bear primary responsibility for funding the public system, which educates 85% of disadvantaged kids.
“The 20-80 funding split isn’t some immutable law of nature – it’s the result of decades of boneheaded policy decisions and an unwillingness by the political establishment to take on private schools.
“The legislated 20% cap is a Coalition relic which lets Labor off the hook. It's clear that many states and territories are unable or unwilling to meet their funding obligations, but with this so-called ‘cap’ in place the federal government – which is wasting $313 billion on stage 3 tax cuts for the wealthy and half a trillion for nuclear submarines no one asked for – can simply shrug its shoulders.
“Labor can and should deliver 100% of the Schooling Resource Standard to all Australian public schools at the start of the next NSRA. If that means that the federal government has to tip in 25%, 30% or 40% to make it happen, then that’s what should happen. The Greens bill will allow them to do that.
“Labor is in power federally and in every mainland state and territory. This is an historically rare opportunity to end a decade of broken pledges and false dawns and deliver on the promise of Gonski once and for all.
“Labor will need to answer to 2.6 million public school students, their parents and carers and their teachers if they fail to seize the moment.”
The Australian Education Act 2013 was amended under the Turnbull Government to insert a 20% default Commonwealth contribution to public schools' Schooling Resource Standard, with states and territories making up the rest. While this is not technically a ceiling on federal funding to public schools (the government could regulate a greater share), it has been interpreted as such and used by governments as an excuse for inaction on closing the funding gap.
The NSRA sets out the school funding arrangements between the Commonwealth and the states and territories. The current NSRA, which was due to expire at the end of 2023 (before being extended by Labor), locks in underfunding for government schools. Under the current agreement public schools will have to wait until at least 2027 just to receive 95% of their Schooling Resource Standard (although the capital depreciation loophole will actually see that number closer to 91%), which is the bare minimum level of funding students require to achieve minimum achievement benchmarks.