The truth about the Coalition's school funding package

The Commonwealth government yesterday announced it would spend an additional $1.2 billion on schooling between 2018 and 2020 as part of a $73.6 billion Student Achievement Plan.

This latter figure was bewildering at first. It is far lower than annual Commonwealth expenditure on schools ($14 billion) or combined state, territory and Commonwealth expenditure on schools ($52.42, figures from 2013-14, most recent year for which comparable data is available).

I went hunting and found the answer buried on page 14 of the Quality Schooling, Quality Outcomes report by the Commonwealth Education Department, which itself was quietly uploaded yesterday evening. 

In the Department's own words:

“Consequently, as a result of using this [new, higher] index, the Australian Government will provide an additional $1.2 billion over four years from 2017-2018 . This additional investment will bring the Australian Government’s total spending commitment for school education to a record $73.6 billion over the Budget and Forward Estimates Period.

In other words, the “new” money is just the result of ditching the paltry CPI index rate introduced by the Abbott government in favour of a slightly higher “education specific indexation rate of 3.56%” which is still below the higher indexation rates (up to 4.7%) that the Coalition removed in its 2014 budget.

This funding package is better described as a partial restoration of the funding cuts of 2014.

But wait, there’s more.  The Turnbull government is requiring the states and nongoverment school systems to undertake a number of specific reforms and measures as a condition of receiving this funding.  This is despite the Coalition's critique of Labor’s extensive policy conditions in their education grants in 2013 and earlier ( which I also criticized for their inappropriateness and unhelpfulness), and despite their rhetoric about making the states sovereign in their own spheres (which I favour, as long as they are transparent and collaborate when appropriate).

Finally, the kicker: the growth in school funding between 2015/16 and 2019-20 under this new indexation rate is estimated to be 26.5%. This is significantly lower than the 66.1% growth in Commonwealth funding for schools between 2004/05 and 2013/14. These figures are all on page 14 of the government’s own report.  The devil is truly in the detail.

What will schools and states get under the Student Achievement Plan? Smaller funding increases and more conditions and tests, which I doubt will improve learning or outcomes.  See my previous post for more information.

(NB This most contains fiddly correction made on May 3rd in relation to forward estimates.)