Budget leak casts doubt on Labor’s education plan

by Brett Henebery03 May 2016

A pre-election stoush has erupted over a reported $19.5bn funding shortfall in Labor's plans to pay for its education policy.

Treasury estimates, leaked last night, show the extra revenue from the 12.5% annual tax rise over 10 years would be $28.2bn.

Labor, using calculations by the Parliamentary Budget Office, had said it would be $47.7bn. The Federal Government claims the shortfall means Labor would not be able to fund its election promises – namely $4.5bn in school funding.
 
However, shadow treasurer, Chris Bowen, hit back, calling the leak “a desperate attempt to cover for the fact the government will be adopting, in full, Labor’s policy on tobacco excise”.
 
While the Federal Government’s $1.2bn pre-election school funding plan has been welcomed by some, it still falls short of the funds required to ensure the final two years of the needs-based Gonski agreement are met.
 
So with doubts over Labor’s ability to keep its school funding promise now surfacing, what does this mean for schools and hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged students in need of urgent support?
 
NSW Secondary Principals Council (NSWSPC) president, Lila Mularczyk, told The Educator that by failing to honour the last two years of the Gonski agreement, the Coalition was ensuring schools remained below the minimum resourcing standard.
 
“When you take out $3.5bn from the education of children, you are not reaching the minimum resource standard that was recommended by the Gonski agreement,” Mularczyk said.
 
She added that as a result, the Coalition was turning its back on those who needed help the most.
 
“The students who are most in need will remain marginalised in the education systems in our nation,” she said.
 
In its pre-election school funding plan, the Federal Government also announced a plan to test students in literacy and numeracy – an area the proposed $1.2bn in funding will be dependent on.

To be eligible for this funding, all three school sectors must commit to improvements in reading and maths, as well as better standards for teachers and more emphasis on teaching quality for STEM education.

Requirements will include assessing Year 1 students’ reading, phonics and numeracy, a minimum proportion of trainee teachers specialising in literacy and numeracy and minimum literacy and numeracy standards for Year 12 students.

Part of the Coalition’s funding plan also sets aside $118.2m to support students with a disability. However, Mularczyk questioned how an under-resourced system will support those students who are struggling most.

“While it’s all well and good to identify what standards children are at, how are we supposed to address the issues of those most in need if we’re not properly resourcing them?”

Treasurer Scott Morrison said even though the Coalition was allocating less school funding money than what Labor had proposed, the Coalition’s plan was “fully funded”.
 
“It's all paid for. It's all real money. It's all money that Australian families can rely on because we have done the work to be able to pay for it,” Morrison told the Nine Network.
 
“Our education expenditure will increase by more than 25% over the budget and forward estimates and will come close to $20bn at the end of that period.”