Schools Need Smart Funding, Not Endless Money Thrown at Them

Education funding has dominated this week in Australian politics. It began on Monday when the Turnbull government announcement an increase to university fees of 7.5% by 2021 and the lowering of the repayment threshold from$55,000 to $42,000. Those of us who question the benefits of everyone going to university, as has been encouraged in recent years, and the taxpayers funding degrees that appear to have no benefit welcomed these changes.

However this was followed a day later by the government announcing a new schools funding model termed by the media ‘Gonski 2.0’. This is because the government announced another review of education funding to be chaired by David Gonski who was the author of the original Gonski report which started this debate about schools funding when it was released during the Gillard years.

The Gonski report was a big government advocate’s dream, it recommended extraordinary increases in federal government funding for schools as the way to overcome inequality. Before the Gillard government lost power in 2013 it wrote into the budget these increases in education funding which were completely unfunded.

The Abbott government committed to funding Gonski for four years. This is where the myth of so called cuts to education was born, because the Coalition did not commit to as much of a funding increase of schools as Labor promised, but it was spun by the left and media that the Coalition was cutting education.

It would appear that the Coalition was rattled by this spin and hence why we are seeing this so called Gonski 2.0 now being announced. The increase in funding is still astronomical, $12.3 billion over the next ten years. Because Gonski is all about fixing inequality 34 elite schools on Australia’s east coast, which receive less funding per student anyway will have a net decrease in federal government funding. Catholic schools will also not be receiving as large an increase as government run schools.

This sees a conservative government implementing a new version of Mark Latham’s private school hitlist that the Coalition heavily criticised in 2004. Labor because it scraps their version of Gonski are opposing these new measures, however the Greens, because this new funding model takes money away from elite private schools have indicated they might support it. When the Greens support a conservative government’s policy alarm bells should be ringing.

The media has been reporting how important these funding increases are, yet I am yet to hear anything reported about what this extra funding will be spent on. There is this consensus in the political class that more funding is automatically good. With a budget deficit projected for 2016-17 of $37.1 billion we need to rethink whether just throwing more money at schools is the answer.

Education spending has already been increased by $10 billion over the past decade yet Australian students have been falling behind their international peers in student testing. Why is this so? A few factors are at play here, teaching standards have been lowered. This is due to the fact that union demands for small class sizes have meant more teachers needed to be employed. This has meant that entry standards for teaching have dropped to the point where some universities are accepting students into teaching degrees with ATAR’s as low as 30.

The curriculum has been hijacked by radical leftists more interested in social reengineering and the three Rs. The new national curriculum’s cross-curriculum priorities are environmental sustainability, Australia’s engagement with Asia and indigenous issues. Don’t forget the introduction of indoctrination programs such as Safe Schools, Respectful Relationships and Building Belonging.

The biggest factor however that has led to education standards declining is the lack of competition between schools. The majority of Australian students still attend government run schools which are not subject to market forces, even private schools are not allowed run their schools for profit. Although running schools for profit may seem like a dirty idea, it is market forces in other parts of the economy that ensure we have high quality goods and services to consume.

School vouchers where parents are given a direct subsidy from the government to spend at the school of their choice they believe best fits the needs of their child helps increase education standards through competition and in the long run decreases costs. It is not a system that benefits only well off children, in the United States charter schools which receive less government funding but compete for student vouchers have actually benefited poor students the greatest. However, given our powerful teachers’ union in Australia, such a radical reform would take a brave government to implement. A brave government we certainly don’t have in Australia.

We need smart funding, not endless funding. Improving teacher standards, getting rid of the radical leftist programs in schools and introducing a modest level of competition between schools would be better solutions. Gonski 2.0 is just a Labor lite education funding model, with the extra funding likely just going to teacher union featherbedding and even further enlarging the education bureaucracy. We all want better schools, but we need to think a bit more deeply about how to achieve that goal.

Tim Wilms

Tim Wilms is Editor-in-Chief of The Unshackled and host of The Unshackled Waves podcast. He is based in Melbourne, Victoria where he also does field reports.