Recent reports from Australia question how the changes outlined in the Gonski school funding reform would be impacted by the outcome of the nation’s recent election, in which Prime Minister Julia Gillard was replaced by her opponent, Kevin Rudd. We asked Dr. Leila Morsy Eckert, a Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of New South Wales, to provide us with some background information on the reform effort, different perspectives on the issue, and the implications of this reform for education in Australia.
The Better Schools: A National Plan for School Improvement, colloquially known as the Gonski reforms, are in principal meant to account for the real cost of educating a child. Funding is allocated to schools on the basis of the average cost of a student’s education. A base amount of funding will be allocated per child. Additional funding, or “loadings,” will be given to schools based on whether the children who attend that school are, on average, disadvantaged. Disadvantage will be measured on the basis of socio-economic status, language background other than English, indigeneity, rural or small schools, and disability. Funding is sector-blind, meaning that the Catholic Schools Sector and the Independent (Private) Schools Sector will also receive money.
What are some of the different perspectives on the issues?
Overall, there is consensus that the current funding system is unclear and unequal (much funding is duplicated, and it is difficult to trace where funding is coming from and where it is going to). However, Catholic School and Independent School representatives have been concerned that they will lose money under the new policy. Others still believe that the premise of the new funding mechanism itself is flawed. Indeed, the Federal Government in Australia funds non-government schools. Many education researchers believe that this has resulted in a system where any family that can afford to send their child to a private or Catholic school does so. One consequence is that public schools have become a place of last resort for all those who cannot afford a private education. The Gonski reforms continue this trend of federal funding of non-government schools.
What do you expect will be happening in the near future?
While the reforms have passed in the Senate, it is unclear what will happen next. Politically, there has been a change of leadership—Julia Gillard, the driving force behind the reforms, was replaced as Prime Minister last week by Kevin Rudd, who supports the reforms but to a less fervent degree than Gillard. Also, not all Australian states and territories have signed up to the federal reforms. So, it may be a slow start for any actual change to roll out across the country.