Going the full Gonski
The Australian, 24 January 2017
Even before being installed as NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian had her hand out for more education money from the federal government under the Gonski funding model. Some will be tempted to point out that here is a Liberal premier endorsing Labor’s Gonski dollars. But the relevant observation is that another premier is looking to Canberra for easy money. Former NSW Liberal premiers Barry O’Farrell and Mike Baird couldn’t sign up to the Gonski plan quickly enough and, as treasurer, Ms Berejiklian would be fully aware of the dynamic, even though her state’s budget outlook is for ongoing healthy surpluses. State governments are not concerned about whether or not additional school funding is the best use of (borrowed) federal funds; they simply are keen to vacuum up extra money and use it to placate the Australian Education Union. This is part of the problem with this model; it accentuates the situation where states are responsible for school education but not for raising the money to fund it. This lack of direct fiscal responsibility is an ongoing problem when it comes to the accountability and efficiency of our federation.
Evidence mounts that school funding has reached a more than adequate level. Despite record spending in education and ongoing increases in real terms per student, educational outcomes are declining. Never better funded, our schools are set for further increases (only the quantum of the rise is being negotiated) but comparative standards are falling. In other words our schools are not as productive as they used to be.
As Kevin Donnelly details in our opinion pages today, the evidence of declining standards is widespread from a variety of respected and independent surveys. He also cites research that suggests funding is already more than adequate. Too much of the debate in this area — urged on by the AEU — focuses on funding and class sizes when teacher training and methods, as well as the decluttering of curriculums, might deliver higher returns. After all, the outcome we want is not the world’s most expensive education system but the best education for our children.