The New South Wales education minister, Adrian Piccoli, has warned he will publish full results of commonwealth funding cuts in new school agreements which he says would increase funding to some of the most expensive private schools while cutting funds to public schools.
“We will be making it very clear which schools will win out of any new funding model and which schools are going to lose,” Piccoli told the ABC.
“And what they are proposing is public schools are going to lose money in NSW but continuing to index some of the most expensive private schools in Sydney and across Australia by 3%. That means expensive private schools go up a minimum of 3%.”
State education ministers warn Canberra not to change school funding agreements
Any commonwealth funding cuts could be published in NSW as every parent can already see what funding is given to their school. The NSW education department publishes the full list of funding increases every year, describing the list as “made possible through the Gonski agreement”.
Ministers met to begin discussions in Adelaide on Friday after the Coalition refused to honour Gonski-style school funding agreements signed under the Gillard government. Western Australia is the only state to support the change so far.
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The new agreements will be for 2018-19, or years five and six of the Gonski agreements, which are are contained in the Australian Education Act, legislated by Labor. That act says funding to non-government schools must increase under indexation by 3% annually.
Piccoli also warned the Turnbull government that it might not get school funding changes – which would break his state’s Gonski-style agreement – through the Senate.
Labor, the Greens and the Nick Xenophon Team do not support cuts to the school funding agreements, already enough to block any changes to the Education Act.
The federal education minister, Simon Birmingham, has yet to fully release his proposal as states were not given formal briefings ahead of the meeting. But Birmingham, who told states he would give a verbal briefing, has said he supports needs-based funding but with conditions attached.
Coalition to argue Labor’s school funding deals a ‘corruption’ of Gonski report
Birmingham has argued that the current school funding agreements are a corruption of the Gonski recommendations because different states get different amounts for equivalent schools.
Gonski recommended delivering individual students across the country the same base level of funding with loadings for disadvantage such as location, socioeconomic factors and disability.
After the meeting, Birmingham said he was hoping to progress to more detailed discussions ahead of a final proposal to put to the Council of Australian Governments meeting in the first half of 2017.
He would not consider the possibility of the senate blocking any deal on funding agreements, which have to be legislated in the Australian Education Act before they come into force.
Asked if the senate could block the bill, Birmingham said: “no, not necessarily.”
“We can work within that budget one way or another but I want it to be a way that best reflects need into the future and best supports students with the assistance they need to succeed at schools.”
But state education ministers remained dissatisfied after the meeting. Piccoli said it was a return to the “bad old days” after all the work of the Gonski panel.
“I’m concerned those principles are going to be thrown out the window,” Piccoli said after the meeting.
“This is really a lost opportunity. We are back to the bad old days. We will be fighting regularly over school funding. That is always going to come at the expense of students.”
Acting Victorian education minister Jenny Mikakos said Victorians would be disappointed at the lack of an outcome.
“We are none the wiser, in terms of their detail from the Commonwealth,” Mikakos said. “They provided no formal offer on the table for the states and territories to consider.”
But Birmingham said before the meeting it was a preliminary meeting to get feedback from the states.
On his way into the meeting on Friday, Birmingham said he was looking for the states to show how they could improve the funding model.
“I’m looking for informed feedback and information from states and territories about how we can improve the funding model that is not what David Gonski envisaged,” he said.
But Labor has argued that each state’s school system began with a different funding level, so the first Gonski-style agreements had to bring all resource levels to similar standards.
Piccoli rejected the argument that NSW had a “sweetheart” deal from Julia Gillard for signing up to the Gonski deal first in the rush to the 2013 federal election.
He said NSW made tough decisions which cut costs from the education bureaucracy so he could put money directly into schools. NSW agreed to index state funding so that more money went into schools, and as a result the commonwealth agreed to more funding.
“You can’t punish NSW because we made tough fiscal decisions and then we invested that money into frontline education,” Piccoli said.
“You can’t punish NSW because we have done the right thing by schools.”
Piccoli said NSW had implemented Gonski “more purely” than any other state and as a result there was absolute agreement between the public schools, the Catholic system and the independent sector.